“The Rescuers” trots the globe to highlight the stories of 12 diplomats who took great risks in order to save European Jews from the Nazis. Sequences with English historian Martin Gilbert and youthful anti-genocide activist Stephanie Nyombayire serve as the connective tissue for this glossy docu, and while they sometimes feel distractedly staged, they serve to heighten the subject’s modern relevance for younger viewers. Long educational tube and classroom life are signaled.
Had her parents not fled to the Congo, Nyombayire might well have died in the 1990s Rwandan Civil War that claimed many of her relatives. Together and separately, she and the genial Gilbert journey to various locales, where they visit sites, consult experts and often have survivors recount firsthand how diplomats intervened to rescue their families or entire communities during WWII, often subverting or blatantly disobeying their governments’ official policies.
Some of these stories are well known (notably that of Swede Raoul Wallenberg, who saved 120,000 Budapest Jews from the camps), but many are relatively obscure, involving players as disparate as a Japanese attache and one actual German Nazi Party member. The often perilous original events are illustrated via short dramatic re-enactments.
Gilbert ponders the “mystery of goodness” that led these men to such deeds — one sacrificing a career, another his life to a firing squad — while Nyombayire asks modern-day diplomats what they would do in similar situations, given the ongoing realities of ethnic persecution and international noninterventionist policies. At times, helmer Michael King utilizes these designated protagonists/tour guides in overly heavyhanded ways, posing them to stare meaningfully into the distance or otherwise act like characters in a staged narrative.
But the fascinating core materials here inevitably compel emotional engagement, while the pic’s sheer geographic expansiveness, roaming from Rwanda to Israel to Lithuania to Turkey to Western Europe, keeps the pace hopping.