Viewing the Nazi invasion of Poland from a child’s point of view, “Edges of the Lord” describes this nightmare world in a fair cross between heart-tugging Hollywood gloss and professional Euro realism. Director Yurek Bogayevicz and other Polish crew and cast ground the story in the Polish countryside, while Haley Joel Osment as a Jewish boy made to pass for Gentile and Willem Dafoe as a tormented, wise-hearted priest do an unusually fine job of blending in. Inevitably, however, pic loses credibility points with its language problem: The whole film is shot in English, with all thesps sporting Polish accents. As a result, it is likely to be passed over by fest-minded distribs and make its way quickly to vid and television.
Osment displays an unusual emotional depth from the opening scene where, as young Romek, he is torn from his parents in Krakow at their behest and spirited out of the city in a gunny sack. A kind peasant boards the blond, blue-eyed boy with his own children, passing him off as a nephew, though his bigoted, unscrupulous neighbors are suspicious. On the other side, the parish priest (Dafoe), who is in on the ruse, coaches the boy in Catholic catechism while respecting his Jewish heritage (surely a rare case, but touchingly scripted).
When it gets away from carefully balancing its stereotypes, the film finds its footing in the world of childhood and its bizarre wartime deviations. The kids pass the time playing a rather alarming game involving Jesus and his disciples.
The kids also witness the Nazis’ cruel games at the peasants’ expense, and the nightly spectacle of desperate Jewish prisoners leaping from trains. Though the strongest parts of the film recall the nightmarish fantasies of Jerzy Kosinski, the Polish-American novelist who pushed children’s wartime experiences to ultimate extremes, Bogayevicz continually pulls back to ground more acceptable to mainstream auds.
Osment emotionally centers the film with a balanced, thoughtful portrait of Romek, though a few more Jewish accouterments would have gone a long way to counteracting the effect of his very Gentile looks. Dafoe acquits himself with restrained despair as the anguished priest, helpless to save the lives of his flock. The Polish cast performs remarkably well in English, giving some of the script’s rougher moments surprising depth.
Tech credits put attractiveness over drama, from Pawel Edelman’s lensing, stressing the deep greens of childhood summers, to Jan P. Kaczmarek’s full orchestral score.