A Bag of Marbles

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
A Bag of Marbles Movie Poster Image
Powerful story of boys' WWII survival has peril, violence.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Perseverance and courage are central themes of the story as two young French Jewish brothers find ways to survive during the Nazis' occupation. Also a strong message of reliance on/loyalty to family. And even those you don't expect it from can do good and help you, so you should do the same when you can.

Positive Role Models & Representations

When we meet the two main boys, they're typical kids/siblings, fighting and messing with each other. But as time goes on, they bond very closely. They show courage and benefit from the compassion of many people along the way. Joseph/Jo in particular learns from this example, notably gaining in maturity throughout the film and showing surprising compassion in a stressful situation. The brothers stick up for each other and develop strength and courage. Nazis are clear villains; the French people who support them and/or simply don't fight back are also presented as negative characters.

Violence

Nazis gun down many French citizens, sometimes execution-style, sometimes in crowds; all hard to watch. The Nazis also beat the young protagonist, drawing blood. Specters of violence and death hang over the boys. Frequent tension and peril, as well as sad moments and painful loss. A father slaps his son to help prepare him for what he could face from the Nazis. Children are separated from their parents multiple times.

Sex

Jo has a crush on an older girl; she kisses his cheek. Some discussion of and joking about boys' interest in girls. Slang/crude references to male genitalia (subtitled).

Language

Occasional swearing includes subtitled instances of "s--t" and "jerk off." Slang descriptions of male anatomy ("wiener," "wang"). 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some smoking; the older brother smokes a couple of times. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Bag of Marbles is a fact-based French-language film (subtitled in English) about two young Jewish brothers who evade the Nazis during World War II. Expect frequent tension/peril and a fair amount of occupation-related violence, some against women and children. Fleeing citizens, Jews, and Nazi resistors are roughly rounded up; some are shot and killed (both in groups and execution-style). Soldiers threaten, yell at, and beat children, sometimes drawing blood. Sympathetic characters die, and the brothers experience painful loss. Language is infrequent but includes "s--t" and slang descriptions of male anatomy. Underlying everything is a strong message of reliance on/loyalty to family, and of the importance of perseverance and courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byRoyjason August 1, 2018

A Bag of Marbles

Awesome film! This should get a lot of awards!!! I cried a lot!!!! wish i can find many movies like this on boxxy software

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What's the story?

In A BAG OF MARBLES, two young brothers from a French Jewish family flee the Nazis and spend the early 1940s evading them in various places. Sometimes Jo (Dorian Le Clech) and Maurice (Batyste Fleurial) are able to reunite with their family, sometimes they're on their own, and sometimes they're helped by kind strangers. They get very good at hiding in plain sight in the company of anti-Semites and collaborators, but they never forget their goal: Get back home to their parents and brothers. The film is based on Joseph Joffo's autobiographical novel, Un sac de billes, which was previously made into a film in 1975. 

Is it any good?

This historical drama is often moving, with gripping moments and an admirable lack of over-sentimentality. Director/co-adapter Christian Duguay stays out of the way of the powerful story and the engaging young characters. Jo and Maurice start A Bag of Marbles bickering in typical sibling fashion but soon bond powerfully, as evidenced in simple scenes such as Maurice carrying Jo on his back when the younger boy's foot is hurt. In one particularly affecting scene, the boys' father, Roman (Patrick Bruel), tries to prepare them for what's to come by telling them to deny their Jewish heritage no matter what ... and then slapping Jo repeatedly to test his mettle and resolve. From there, the boys learn to do whatever they must to survive, getting out of one scrape after another. They encounter Nazi brutality and unapologetic collaborators, but they also find courage and unexpected compassion. Jo, particularly, takes important steps toward adulthood before our eyes. 

A Bag of Marbles gets its name from the price Jo exacts from a friend in exchange for his Nazi-mandated Star of David patch, a metaphor for how little he values his heritage at the start of the story. The film strays from some of the book's facts (such as the existence of the boys' sister and some of their movements during the war), but it conveys the awful price paid by even those who evaded the camps -- primarily the separation of families and living in constant terror. The acting is uniformly solid, especially from the two boys. Duguay doesn't slather on swelling strings or sweeping close-ups; he knows the material and performances are strong enough to make viewers feel something without too many bells and whistles. A Bag of Marbles is a worthy entry into the cinematic Holocaust library.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in A Bag of Marbles. How does it compare to what you might see in a more action-focused war movie? Which has more impact? Why?

  • How did Jo and Maurice show courage? What were some of the fears or risks that they faced? Why did they act anyway?

  • The film is based on Joseph Joffo's autobiographical novel but changes some facts (e.g., that the boys had a sister). How does knowing that it's not entirely accurate affect your opinion of the film? Why do you think filmmakers might decide to make changes in fact-based movies?

  • Talk about your impressions of life under Nazi occupation, especially based on movies. What was it like for kids and families in France? What was it like for Jewish people in France? What did you learn from this film?

Movie details

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