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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.
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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 ...
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?
- In theaters: March 23, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: December 4, 2018
- Cast: Dorian Le Clech, Batyste Fleurial, Patrick Bruel
- Director: Christian Duguay
- Studio: Gaumont
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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