Parents' Guide to

A Bag of Marbles

By Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Powerful story of boys' WWII survival has peril, violence.

Movie NR 2018 110 minutes
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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.

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