Film Review: ‘Run Boy Run’

Lauf Junge Lauf Run Boy Run

Pepe Danquart's Holocaust drama sticks faithfully but unimaginatively to its source.

Based on a bestseller that was itself based on a true story (the real-life protagonist appears under the end credits), “Run Boy Run” sticks faithfully, albeit highly unimaginatively, to its source. For his Holocaust saga of an 8-year-old Jewish child cast adrift in Nazi-occupied Poland, vet German helmer Pepe Danquart relies on the pathos inherent in the situation to carry his film emotionally as the kid’s struggle for survival increasingly reflects the Jewish people’s struggle to maintain their identity in the face of genocide. A natural for Jewish viewers and older arthouse-goers, “Run Boy Run” feels too old-fashioned and by-the-numbers for a wider audience.

Srulik (played by twins Andrzej and Kamil Tkacz) escapes the roundup in his hometown to hide out in the woods.  He hooks up briefly with a small bunch of Jewish kids also on the run, who have banded together to forage off the land, roasting stolen chickens around a fire and keeping morale alive by swapping displays of bravado. But after an unsuccessful chicken-snatching raid results in the capture of some kids and the scattering of others, Srulik once again finds himself alone as bitter winter and the Gestapo close in.

Calling himself “Jurek” to disguise his Jewishness, he seeks temporary shelter or employment at a succession of farmhouses, encountering slammed doors and an occasional odd job until he arrives at the home of Magda (Elisabeth Duda, excellent), wife and mother of partisans, who teaches him everything he needs to pass as Catholic. Magda is the closest the film ever comes to an authentic character. Even Jurek, in virtually every frame of the film, is defined almost solely by his will to live, functioning mainly as a witness to events with little personal coloration or interiority.

By the same token, the people whom Jurek encounters on his desperate, years-long wanderings function like a running tally of relative Polish innocence or guilt in the Holocaust, rather than distinct characters. Thus, when a farm accident costs Jurek his arm, a “bad” doctor refuses to operate because the boy is a Jew, while another, “good” doctor tends him and helps him to escape.

Danquart’s anecdotal, checklist-style approach furnishes fodder for the simplest kind of identification with his hero, and the sheer presentation of these terrible grievances may prove sufficiently empathy-inducing for the target audience. Changes of tone, although possible, are rarely pursued; in the film’s one foray into humor, the handicapped Jurek delights in inventing more and more outrageously heroic stories about how he lost his arm, but this entertaining, tale-spinning talent disappears without a trace. If the Tkacz twins’ thesping never hits a wrong note, it rarely provides access to any process of consciousness. Even the character’s ultimate choice between assimilation and the assumption of his Jewish heritage reads merely as a choice between signposts.

Daniel Gottschalk’s panoramic lensing accents the desolation of the vast spaces traversed by the lone boy, while Stephane Moucha’s sweeping score supplies an overabundance of the emotion lacking elsewhere.

Film Review: 'Run Boy Run'

Reviewed at New York Jewish Film Festival, Jan. 14, 2014. (Also in Berlin Film Festival — German Cinema.) Running time: 107 MIN. Original title: "Lauf Junge Lauf"


(Germany-France) A Bittersuess Pictures production in co-production with Cine-sud Promotion, A Company, B.A. Produktion, ARD, Quintefilm. (International sales: Radiant Films Intl. Los Angeles.) Produced by Susa Kusche, Uwe Spiller, Pepe Danquart. Co-producers, Alexander van Duelmen, Hanneke van der Tas, Theirry Lenouvel, Antonio Exacoustos, Mirjam Quinte.


Directed by Pepe Danquart. Screenplay, Heinrich Hadding, based on the novel by Uri Orlev. Camera (color, widescreen), Daniel Gottschalk; editor, Richard Marizy; music, Stephane Moucha; production designer, Matthias Musse; art director, Adriana Luna; costume designer, Gioia Raspe; supervising sound editor (Dolby Digital), Guy Tebbel; supervising dialogue editor, Alexander Buck; re-recording mixer, Jean-Guy Veran; sound, Frank Heidbrink; casting, Constance Demontoy.


Andrzej Tkacz, Kamil Tkacz, Elisabeth Duda, Jeanette Hain, Itay Tiran, Katarzyna Bargielowska, Rainer Bock. (Polish, German, Russian, Yiddish dialogue)

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  1. Nancy Norton says:

    This was a compelling film and very much worth your time. We found this incredibly moving with palpable realness.. not over analytical, just clear, direct brilliance! My 12 year old son could not watch after the first 1/4 of the film when another of many tragedies struck the boy’s life. I was crying and holding my son, he then cried for several more minutes and had to seek comfort holding our family dog. The inhumanity of war and xenophobia cannot be overexposed. My son is a WWII buff and this brought the very intimate reality of war to him. I little too real for him. I finished watching it after he went to bed and we are still processing the movie today. As US troops hit the ground in Poland today to protect the Eastern border from Russia this time… it all feels surreal and leaves you wondering, could this happen again? This film raises awareness again and again… to motivate us to do whatever we can to not ever let this happen again.

  2. K says:

    This was a great movie! We do not agree with this critic as far as his comments about “feeling too old-fashioned and by the numbers for a wider audience”. Really? Run Boy Run is featured on Netflix now and everyone’s giving it great ratings! There’s your wider audience! The critic talks about lack of distinct characters. Hmm, this was a child (not an adult) constantly on the run and trying to survive. He was told not too stay in one place too long to be safe and that is exactly what you saw in this movie. Complaints about “emotion lacking elsewhere”… When you’re in a situation of survive or die, did you want to main child character to break down and cry on a consistent basis? I don’t think we were all watching the same movie here because again, this was a GREAT movie!

    For those who wish to buy this movie on DVD, has it for sale!!! Get a copy!!!

  3. Phyllis says:

    I have watched this 2 nights in a row, invited friends to see it. It is wonderful, , to see the bravery of the Jewish people under awful persecution, and the love of other scared people. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

  4. Richard K. Horton says:

    My wife and I would love to buy this dvd. We just saw the movie at the Jewish Film Festival in Rockland ME and must have it. Is this possible? With English sub-titles? Thank you for a speedy reply.

  5. Carol Hirsh says:

    I would like to purchase the DVD of “Run Boy Run.” Can you tell me if this is possible? If so, how do I go about doing so and what is the cost of purchasing this DVD? If not for purchase, might I rent this film?At what cost would the rental be? I”ll be most grateful to you for a speedy response to these questions.
    Sincerely, Carol N. Hirsh, 30 Branch Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618 (585) 442-4614

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