Samson | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Dramatizations of the Holocaust usually fall prey to histrionics or stylistic excess, but this stunning 1961 portrayal of a Jew's wanderings through occupied Warsaw is the exception that proves the rule. The simple, almost deadpan style of director Andrzej Wajda is neatly matched by Serge Merlin's superbly even performance as the profoundly disoriented Jakob Gold, and while some might be offended by the character's passivity (he escapes the ghetto through no real choice of his own), his doggedness in trying to return to die with his people makes his final transformation all the more powerful. Wajda acknowledges the anti-Semitism of Poles as well as their oppressors: the film begins with Gold's classmates beating him solely because he's Jewish, and during the occupation the only people who will help him are his former prison mates, two women who love him, and (predictably) some communists. Kazimierz Brandys penned the source novel, which he and Wajda adapted for the screen, but the subject had a personal resonance for the director as well: his father died in spring 1940 when the Soviets massacred thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn forest. 105 min. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Monday, December 11, 6:30, 773-281-4114.

--Fred Camper

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