Train de vie (Train of Life), 1998
Directed by Radu Mihăileanu
Music by Goran Bregovic
In 1941, following the advise of the village fool, the inhabitants of an isolated Jewish village in Central Europe take the initiative to deport themselves. They organize a fake deportation train so that they can flee to Palestine via the Soviet Union. To further complicate the journey, communist ideology erupts among the male youths on the train.
“Train of Life is on the lighter side of the Holocaust genre, if that’s possible. The story is simple and the humor is unsophisticated. The approach is refreshing and highlights different and important aspects of Holocaust stories. The film focuses on the community and religious spirit of a small Jewish enclave. The villagers, who are mostly unaware of the Nazi menace, rely on their elders to protect them and make important decisions on their behalf. The village exists on its own spiritual level – isolated from the terror that has spread across Europe, preoccupied by their community microcosm.
The film explores the relationships within this doomed village with a warm heart, focusing on love, family and religious conviction rather than their impending peril. The village is a powerful entity that defies their oppressor with spirit. Despite fear and little understanding of the plan, the villagers rally together, sacrificing everything for their train to freedom. The values that emerge evoke greater power than the bumbling Nazis can exert over the Jews.
Train of Life is a charming story of faith, spirit and humor. The political underbelly of the film is clever and compassionate without relinquishing the comic ambitions of their farcical plan. There was potential for this to be a more complex film with greater character development, but if that had been accomplished, much of the comic whimsy would surely been lost.
This heart-warming film has a reality-loaded conclusion that forces Train of Life to straddle comedy and drama. The film doesn’t so much make light of the Holocaust as it penetrates the values of a condemned community.”
“Train of Life will be subjected to the same sort of criticism that was leveled at both Life is Beautiful and (to a lesser degree) Jakob the Liar – it trivializes a horrific period in recent history. Although this is arguably a valid point-of-view, Mihaileanu goes to great pains to emphasize the tragedy of the circumstances, although he does so in a somewhat belated and unconventional manner. In fact, it is the final, brief ending scene that radically shifts our perspective about all that has preceded it.”