Starring Martin Gilbert, Stephanie Nyombayire
Directed by Michael King
The atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II are among the most egregious crimes against humanity in the history of the world. This is an undeniable fact, and the stories of the survivors are equally undeniable and powerful. It’s impossible not to be moved when those who fled the Nazi regime as children return as aged adults to where their visa was stamped by a kindhearted diplomat. But as powerful as these stories and these specific moments are, The Rescuers still feels like it needs to handhold its audience a bit with highly emotional, overbearing music.
This was my main problem with the presentation of The Rescuers, as the music feels completely unnecessary for the film to work. On top of that, something was wrong with the sound mix on the screener I received for review, so whenever music was playing (which is almost constantly) the narration was nearly inaudible unless I cranked the sound way past comfortable levels. Clearly this was not the director’s intent so I will try to look past this technical issue in reviewing the film, but I can’t deny that it definitely clouded my experience with the film.
The Rescuers also feels a bit unfocused, but when you’re telling a series of relatively unrelated stories across multiple countries and continents, I suppose that kind of comes with the territory. There are also a lot of odd stylistic choices throughout the film that cheapen the experience. For instance, after showing photos of Nazi war criminals on the wall of a museum, we’re given a shot where the creepy music swells as the camera backs out of the room and double doors slam shut as if pulled in by an invisible paranormal entity. I expect that kind of thing in a modern horror film, but a documentary? A very strange choice, indeed. But through all of this, the stories of the survivors and their rescuers emerge and demand your attention.
The stroke of brilliance comes with the juxtaposition of modern African genocides, specifically the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and the ongoing war in Darfur. The film follows author and historian Sir Martin Gilbert and activist Stephanie Nyombayire (a native Rwandan who lost many family members in the 1994 genocide) as they talk with the survivors and visit the places important to their stories. In addition to learning the survivors’ tales, Stephanie is also interested in the situations for how they can relate to Africa’s current struggles. There are even a few moments when current European diplomats in the same positions of those who helped rescue thousands of Jewish citizens during World War II are asked how they would respond to such circumstances. The responses are interesting, to say the least, and over the course of the film these moments help to solidify the film’s overall theme of doing the right thing in the face of evil.
This choice to save lives, despite what the rules say that you must do, is truly courageous and honorable. The force of character it must have taken for the diplomats to do these noble acts is just astounding, and should never be forgotten. The Rescuers shows us that we must find that strength to do the right thing, no matter what the personal cost could be. But that being said, it’s still a tough choice to make. Stephanie Nyombayire is one of these courageous people, though, and in 60 or 70 years, I can imagine another documentary profiling the people in Africa that she helped through her kind and selfless humanitarian acts. Like all the rescuers both featured in the film and not, Stephanie Nyombayire is one to look to for inspiration when we face the many tough choices that life might throw our way.
The Rescuers is available now in the US and Canada via iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, Playstation and other Video-On-Demand providers!
Disclosure: I was provided with access to a review screener of the film.