Smart Elek

Walking With the Enemy tells the story of a Hungarian resistance hero.
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Posted April 23, 2014 by KRISTIAN LIN in Film
Jonas Armstrong wears a Nazi uniform to save Jews in Walking With the Enemy.Jonas Armstrong wears a Nazi uniform to save Jews in Walking With the Enemy.

As the Nazi reign of terror swept across Europe, many people in various walks of life found ways of standing against it and making a difference. One such was Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum, the Hungarian resistance hero who saved the lives of hundreds of his fellow Jews during the waning days of World War II. His life story has been loosely adapted into the current movie Walking With the Enemy, and while it’s an indifferent piece of filmmaking, I was glad to be able to learn about Rosenbaum and his work through it.

His fictional alter ego is named Elek Cohen (Jonas Armstrong), who in the spring of 1944 is a university student in Budapest enjoying the pleasures of life in the big city. However, when the Hungarian government invites the Nazis in, Elek and his best friend and fellow Jew Ferenc (Mark Wells) are forced to flee. Life in their village turns out to be no better, so Elek and Ferenc make their way back to the capital, taking refuge in the Swiss legation — a diplomatic office lower than an embassy but affording the same legal sanctuary — and encouraging other Hungarian Jews to do the same. Eventually, Elek and his friends disguise themselves in stolen SS uniforms and infiltrate the German ranks to learn what’s happening to the other Jews in the city who are disappearing into the countryside.

First-time director Mark Schmidt is also the founder and president of Liberty Studios, the new outfit that produced this film. Credit him with finding such a worthy story and being so committed to it, but his inexperience shows in his clumsy introductions of various Hungarian politicians and German military officials who affect the story, and the romantic plot between Elek and a pretty Jewish refugee (Hannah Tointon) comes out soggy. He includes the fascinating detail that the Swiss legation was called “The Glass House” because it had been converted from a glass factory, but he injects it into the script in a rather obvious way.

The movie does have some large-scale combat sequences that are pulled off convincingly, and Armstrong (whose previous work has mostly been on TV in his native Ireland) does a fair job of both portraying the fun-loving Elek before the war and barking out orders as Elek impersonates a Nazi so he can save more lives. Ben Kingsley, who narrated a 2003 documentary called Unlikely Heroes that was partially about Pinchas Rosenbaum, here turns up as Miklós Horthy, the regent of Hungary who lets the Nazis in because the alternative is submitting to Soviet rule. Of course, Kingsley starred in a far more powerful film about the Holocaust 20 years ago, but then this movie is hardly alone in not being as good as Schindler’s List. Like Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, Walking With the Enemy unearths a story of an ordinary man who fought a great evil in his own small way, and it may well lead you to want to learn more.

 

Walking With the Enemy

Starring Jonas Armstrong, Hannah Tointon, and Ben Kingsley. Directed by Mark Schmidt. Written by Kenny Golde. Rated PG-13.

 


One Comment


  1.  
    de

    If you are going to damn someone with faint praise in a public forum, it would behoove you to get your facts straight. Mr. Armstrong is Irish, but he and his family moved to England when he was a child. He graduated from RADA in 2003. His credits include stage, television and film, including the soon-to-be-released Edge of Tomorrow, which stars Tom Cruise. Most of Jonas’ work has been produced by UK companies and organizations such as the BBC with the programs later aired in countries world-wide, such as Robin Hood, in which he played the lead, and which ran for 3 seasons, originally shown on BBC America, and now being rerun on various cable channels.

    Mark Schmidt may be somewhat of a neophyte when it comes to films and their storytelling, but kudos to him for attempting to follow in the tradition of the great storyteller and proponent of “do the right thing,” the great director Frank Capra. We need more of these types of films, in which real stories are told and real actors act!





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