If I had only $10 for the next 6 months to spend on one movie, I would choose Defiance. The movie follows 4 Jewish brothers, who run from the Nazi occupied Belorussia, and they go into hiding in the deep forests. The 4 Bielski brothers, Tuvia (played by Daniel Craig), Zus (played by Liev Schreiber), Aseal (played by Jamie Bell) and Aron (played by George MacKay) dedicate themselves to saving as many Jews as they could. “I’d rather save 1 old Jewish woman than kill 10 Nazi soldiers” declared Tuvia Bielski, after learning that his parents were killed by the Nazi. Hundreds of men, women, and children found their way to the camp in the dark, cold, and unforgiving forests. Nobody was turned away. In the summer of 1944, when the area was liberated 1,230 men, women, and children emerged from the woods. 1,230 lives were saved by the dedication, sacrifice, and never ending hope of the Bielski brothers. This is a true story. A story that Jewish sociologist Nechama Tec (after years of research) published in the book Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. Her book was optioned by director Ed Zwick (his other movies are : The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Glory, The Siege), as it rang pretty close to home (Mr. Zwick’s grandfather moved to US from Poland after the First World War).
Defiance is really about survival, about families, traditions, and keeping the torch burning. In the freezing winter, with no food, no heat, with suffering and diseases spreading, there is still room for hope and happiness, for marriage, love, children, and future. There is a community, an ensemble, a unit, a whole that can’t be broken. Even when the 2 brothers (the charismatic, cool headed Tuvia and the blood thirsty, hot headed Zus) fight, and they split into 2 separate units (one, led by Zus joined the Soviet partisan groups, and the other, led by Tuvia, remained a close knit big family in the woods), their ideals about justice, righteousness and what a decent society should be like stay the same.
Throughout the movie you are followed by the moral questions of: should we use violence against our oppressors? Eye for an eye? Blood for blood? (the scene when all the camp people attack and kill the German soldier they took prisoner is horrifying. All their pain, frustration and hate comes out and explodes in a savage revenge), and “where is God when I need him?” These questions make the movie alive and real.
The Bielski brothers are rough, tough characters (it is hinted that they used to be smugglers and thieves), but what they did was extraordinary! They saved lives, and they protected and nurtured the ideal of freedom and safety. Against all odds they created a community in the woods (with a school, an infirmary, a kitchen, a court of law, with crafts and jobs for everybody). According to partisan documentation they killed a total of 381 enemy fighters. There was a reward of 100,000 Reichmarks on Tuvia’s head, but nobody ever collected on it.
“Jews don’t fight”, says a Russian officer when he meets Tuvia and Zus. “These Jews do” is the answer, and this is pretty much the true, astonishing story of the Bielski brothers, who fought the Nazis with everything they had, and rescued hundreds of Jews in the darkest years of history.
The cinematography, by Eduardo Serra, is breathtaking, even though sometimes it sends chills up and down your spine. Poland and Romania were both considered for shooting locations, but in the end, the movie was filmed in forests in Canada, and remote, wooded area in Lithuania, about 100 miles away from the real location of the Bielski brothers’ camp.
Based on an unbelievable true story, Defiance is the story of family, honor, hope, vengeance, determination and salvation in World War II. It is the story of the work and efforts to create a community and to keep faith alive when all humanity appears to have lost its humanity. Fighting prosecution and defiance was in the culture of that time, but the Bielski brothers had the courage and the will to make it reality.
by Daniella Lazar