The Miami Jewish Film Festival doesn't officially launch its 2014 series until Jan. 23. But last Saturday, the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education hosted a special preview of Walking with the Enemy, which will open nationally on April 25th.
Inspired by a true story that you've probably never heard, the script focuses on Elek Cohen (played by Jonas Armstrong), a Hungarian Jew who saves the lives of thousands by playing the role of a lifetime: a Nazi officer. His character is based on Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum, who disguised himself as an officer in the Arrow Cross, a group aligned with Hitler's cause.
"Mark Schmidt [the director] wanted to tell a great story and inspire people to do good things," said Christopher Williams, one of the producers of the film who was in attendance at Saturday's screening. "He created Liberty Studios specifically for this film."
After escaping from a labor camp, Elek returns home to discover that the Germans have taken his family and that his house has been given to non-Jews. When he reconnects with a love-interest, Hannah (Hannah Tointon), she introduces him to an undercover operation at Budapest's "Glass House."
Led by Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz (William Hope), Glass House members print thousands of "official" Swiss documents to provide citizenship for Hungarian Jews. At first Elek helps with distribution, but he soon moves on to bigger things. Using a dead Nazi's uniform he intercepts, rounds up and saves Jews, repeatedly putting himself in danger. These scenes are the best, with elevated tension getting the heart racing as Elek screams and rants in front of actual SS men. At any moment he could get caught.
Apart from Ben Kingsely, who plays Hungarian leader Regent Horthy, the cast is made up of mostly lesser-known actors. Armstrong is convincing and grim in the picture, and while under the radar now, he's sure to blow up after his upcoming role in Edge of Tomorrow, alongside Tom Cruise.
Walking with the Enemy sheds light on what this year's Miami Jewish Film Festival is striving for: quality cinema that will leave lasting impressions on audiences:
"This is a universal story," said Williams. "Yes, the lead character is Jewish, but this is a story for everyone."
The Miami Jewish Film Festival runs from January 23 to February 3. Venues for screenings include Frank Theaters Intracoastal, O Cinema Miami Shores, the Miami Beach Cinematheque, Bill Cosford Cinema and the Regal Cinemas South Beach. Tickets are available via miamijewishfilmfestival.net.
--Dana De Greff
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