Hard Truths: 'Fugitive Pieces' and 'Standard Operating Procedure' Examine Grim History

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Fugitive Pieces, a new Holocaust survival film, shows the difficulties of adapting a deeply poetic novel to the screen. Anne Michaels, a Canadian, was already an established poet when she wrote the book. The movie's strongest moments come when it quotes its characters directly or in voiceover narration. Ultimately, director Jeremy Podeswa gives us only tempting peeks into the density and depth of the novel's language and emotions.

The story centers on Jakob Beer (Stephen Dillane), who as a 9-year-old Polish Jew during World War II witnesses the murder of his parents and the abduction of his beloved sister, Bella, by the Gestapo. Hiding in the woods, he is near-miraculously saved by a Greek archaeologist, Athos Roussos (Rade Sherbedgia), who happened to be working in the area.

Risking his own life, Athos brings Jakob to his native Greece, bringing up the boy in seclusion while German soldiers lurk outside his seaside home. Fast-forwarding to the future, Athos and Jakob come to Toronto, where Jakob becomes a teacher and writer but continues to struggle with the horrors of his past. His only solace is the writing of his book, a painful process that breaks up his marriage and leaves him so isolated he "longs for the loss of his memory."

Mr. Dillane, the pensive Thomas Jefferson in the recent HBO series "John Adams," projects a saddened but controlled presence as Jakob, one that is also sparked by humor and warmth. Mr. Sherbedgia, too, is memorable, a father figure in almost every scene. He has a saying for every occasion and teaches the reticent Jakob to write out his innermost thoughts. The women in Jakob's life are less convincing, operating more as beautiful objects than as persons in their own right.

The director's main narrative device is kaleidoscopic editing used to move the story back and forth in time. The result is a stronger emphasis on theme than on plot. A key metaphor draws on archaeology. Just as Athos dug young Jakob up from the ground, the latter, in turn, digs into his past, both to find his sister and come to closure with his losses. He confronts the image of Bella (Nina Dobrev) several times during the film: She speaks to him, caresses him and plays the piano as she did in his youth.

This as well as a new love are Jakob's only hopes of unlocking himself from his past. A solemn score, including Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, evokes powerful reminders of his sister. Though these cinematic touches evokes powerful, they are no match for the intricate beauty of Ms. …