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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fanny's Journey focuses most of its 94 minutes on the courage and ingenuity of a group of children fending for themselves as they hide from Germans during World War II. The film applauds the resourceful Jewish children but also the many Christians who tried to help save them along the way. Never far from the surface is the violent threat of armed German soldiers and their French collaborators looking for Jews. Germans soldiers shoot at escaping children. French police officers hold Jewish children without food or water, pressing them to inform on adults who tried to help them. The bodies of hanged resistance soldiers are seen. Children walk on through no-man's-land hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. The movie will present great opportunities for discussions about World War II and the ugliness and ignorance at the heart of prejudice. Although the primary actors range from 6 to around 12, younger viewers may find the suspense and danger too intense.
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What's the story?
FANNY'S JOURNEY is based on a true story about children who escaped from Nazi-occupied France to safety in neutral Switzerland during World War II. After Fanny's father is arrested for being Jewish, her mother sends her and two younger sisters to a boarding school in a still-neutral French zone. When the school is compromised by the fall of Italy's leader, Mussolini, the children are secretly rushed to another institution, but with Nazis heading their way, the school's head must use forged papers to try to lead the children to safety in Switzerland by train. When they run into German soldiers on the train, the headmistress must abandon the children. She sends them off with instructions and a promise that she'll meet them at their next stop. It's implied that she's ultimately arrested for all her good work and probably killed. Fanny and the children improvise their way through danger at every turn: collaborating French police officers here and Nazi soldiers there. Along the way, kind French Christians risk their lives to help Fanny and the others to eventually run across an open, Nazi-guarded border to Switzerland. Note that after spending the remaining war years in Switzerland, Fanny and her sisters returned to France to find her parents, but never saw them again, which suggests they were both killed.
Is it any good?
This movie is a gripping and intensely moving rendering of the true story of the childhood escape of Fanny Ben-Ami, who lost both her parents during World War II and now lives in Israel. Leonie Souchaud admirably plays Fanny as a serious, responsible child who accepts that whining about unfairness, hunger, and exhaustion are luxuries she and her escaping group cannot afford if they want to survive. Director Lola Doillon invited the real Fanny to the movie's set during filming, and perhaps her connection to the reality of the story is the reason Fanny's Journey resonates with truth.
When Fanny and the other children, including a few 6-year-olds, are rushed from a compromised safe haven to another, the headmistress of the new school, played by Cecile de France, is openly annoyed. She was promised that "no small children" would be sent to her. Her concern about caring for small kids who are actively longing for their parents and might not understand their situation doesn't stop her from doing all she can to save them, but that quick moment conveys the dangers such brave people faced as they worried about whether young ones could remember their new non-Jewish names when questioned by authorities. Younger children may find the story too intense. Listen for an achingly beautiful rendition by a children's choir singing the Yiddish folk song "Tumbalalaika."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what prejudice means. Why do you think it's so common for some groups of people to claim superiority over other groups of people? How do they address prejudice in Fanny's Journey?
The movie recounts the Nazi mission to rid the world of Jews during World War II. Not all prejudiced people want to kill the people they are biased against, as the Nazis did, but many want to limit the rights of those they don't like. Do you see parallels from the movie and prejudices held by people today?
If you thought people you knew were being treated unfairly, do you think it would be a good idea to stand up for their rights? What does the movie say about helping people in times of need?
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