This brings me to the second film directed by twenty-one time Oscar Nominated producer (with a full thirteen Oscar wins) John Daly. It's called The Aryan Couple and it's beautifully tense and tensely beautiful. Daly, who also co-wrote and produced, has truly directed an Oscar worthy film, wonderfully acted and breathtakingly shot (with the help of Director of Photography Sergei Kozlov). The Aryan Couple may well be the most tense and suspenseful film I've seen this year (and is certainly the most emotionally enthralling), however, this is most certainly not just your typical World War II Death Camp film. The spectre of evil is always there, but even in days of darkness, beauty could still be found along with a surprising amount of laughter.
The Aryan Couple is the seldom-told tale of "The Europe Plan", a deal brokered between the wealthiest of European Jews and their Nazi War Criminal overseers, and one of the signatories of this bargain. The offer: All of the wealth of the family, the properties, the art and the valuables in exchange for safe passage for the payer and the family from conquered nations such as Hungary to the sanctuary of Palestine. The alternative: Auschwitz. Were there any takers? Are you kidding? The true meaning of "a price above rubies" is explored right here.
Joseph Krauzenberg (Martin Landau) is one such taker. Krauzenberg has it all, a booming business with 3,000 (count 'em) employees, a wonderful and intelligent wife, a brilliant extended family, an Aryan married couple who serve as his personal servants and more collected art than the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum, Simon Bisley's footlocker and Nikki Sixx's right arm combined. But that was before the Nazis became hungry for Hungary. Now, Krauzenberg has been forced to host a dinner at his palace (the home of his vast art collection) during which he will sign over everything he owns to Heinrich Himmler (Danny Webb) and Adolf Eichmann (Steven Mackintosh).
Martin Landau is incredible in this film, running a heart-wrenching gamut of emotion, as realistic in silence as he is in speech. Landau's face shows love, longing, pride, horror, amazement and loss in a universal language more powerful than words. The man deserves an Oscar Nomination as sure as I deserve a high paying job as a beer and pretzel taster. What truly makes this work, however, is how perfectly meshed Landau is with his friend, Daly. Krauzenberg's point of view and the camera work as one entity quite astoundingly, as he surveys the beauty of his world, and slowly reminds himself of the destruction that has taken it over.
Landau's pathos is nearly perfectly matched with the passion and strength of Judy Parfitt's portrayal of Joseph's wife Rachel Krauzenberg. Her quiet indignance grows to a roiling (and barely contained) anger as the dinner party goes on. The feeling of real horror permeates this night, as Rachel subtly taunts and baits the devil that is Himmler. There is an almost "Don't Go In The Basement!" type of fear as the audience collectively reaches up to shut Rachel up, just to save her from the monster that always lies under the prim and proper veneer of Webb's Himmler. Himmler's evil is all the more tangible and frightening when viewed against the canvas of his cultured and thoroughly polite gentleman Nazi. I constantly expected the monster to simply jump out of Himmler all over Rachel as poor Joseph was forced to watch in his silent fear and the Aryan Couple themselves looked on in sorrow.
It is this couple, a kind young pair of German marrieds, who make this movie work as more than an original one-act play. Kenny Doughty's Hans Vassman and (Doughty's real-life girlfriend) Caroline Carver's Ingrid Vassman act as first the backdrop and then the main focus of this film named for them. Subtly but surely, as their true selves come to the forefront of our story, the movie shifts from The Pianist to North By Northwest! This good couple, with quite a few secrets of their own, have the opportunity to end a great scourge, or to protect the family they have both served and loved. Both Doughty and Carver play the naive kids of their surface selves as well as the brilliant and headstrong adults that they are behind closed doors. They have one face reserved for the German Soldiers (like Christopher Fulford's Edelhein or Jake Wood's Dresler), another for the Krauzenbergs, and still a third reserved only for themselves. The morphing between the various personas Daly and his writer Kendrew Lascelles have crafted into just two characters takes two excellent actors to pull off. You truly have to see them and their part in this great story to believe them, or it.
The few drawbacks that exist here are minor blemishes on a beautiful whole, but when there are nits to be picked a nitpicker must nit pick! In a film that wears subtlety like a jewel encrusted Star of David, the occasional incongruous blurted line or awkwardly worded expository monologue stand out like Spock ears at a Babylon 5 convention. The strange dichotomy between signs written in English and signs written in German or Hungarian occasionally glare at critical eyes as much as varying British, American and faux-Eastern European Accents mixed together are noticeable to critical ears as well. There are also a few moments set up for big shocks (as seen in our current crop of "Surprise Twist Endings") that are effective and great for the story, yet aren't nearly as surprising or satisfying as those that aren't set up by the musical cues or slow-motion camera work.
However, again, these are merely nits worth picking only for completion. The truth is, The Aryan Couple is surprisingly different, uncomfortably exquisite and even occasionally tensely funny movie with constantly underlying suggested anxiety (making the courage of our main characters all the greater). Daly's eye for color and elegance in the middle of a film of ugly dread makes for an uncomfortable spring in the middle of winters, a yin trumped by its yang. The result has proven that John Daly is an Oscar worthy Director, just as he's proven he's an Oscar worthy producer twenty-one times over.
Four and One Half Stars out of Five for The Aryan Couple, a film with more secrets and surprises than J.D. Salinger's Jack-In-The-Box! Holocaust stories still need to be told, and told honestly, but they do not need to be told the same way every time. Daly knows this and gives us a rich film with a very different mood and direction than its peers, especially when the audience grabs on to that slim thread of hope, and prays that it won't be cut by the much thicker rope of evil that runs side by side with it in this varied tapestry. The result is as surprising as the fact that the producer of The Last Emperor, Hoosiers and Platoon also produced The Terminator, Return of the Living Dead and Yellowbeard. What's more surprising than that is that the winner of 13 Oscars (including an all-but-unprecedented two consecutive "Best Picture" Academy Awards) would still be so down to Earth and friendly. From the moment the credits rolled on Monday, November 14, 2005 to the moment I shook his hand and thanked him for it to the moment we said goodbye, Daly (and his son second assistant director Michael Daly) seemed much more to be saying "Thank You for seeing my Movie!" than "Kiss my Ring you Peasants!" That, I find impressive. We all have our jobs to do, Daly's is making good films, and he's very good at it. So, until the time is right for you to look into my eyes and see through my disguise, I shall remain your humble servant who shall see you in the next reel. Thank you... and God bless!
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