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'Nicky's Family' review: Holocaust heroism

Nicholas Winton -- an Englishman who organized the

Nicholas Winton -- an Englishman who organized the rescue of 669 Czech and Slovak children just before the outbreak of World War II -- with one of the rescued children from the movie " Nicky's Family." Credit: Menemsha Films

The story of "Nicky's Family" is irresistibly uplifting and ennobling: How the now-104-year-old Nicholas Winton became a kind of English Raoul Wallenberg when he found himself in Czechoslovakia in 1938, saw what was happening, defied his superiors and arranged for the escape of 669 children to foster homes in Britain.

There is no resisting the humanity or poignancy of such a story, or the pain of children being taken from parents, who surrendered them to spare them. Or the nobility of Winton (who is interviewed in the film, though not enough), who never spoke of what he did until it was discovered decades later. What's nettlesome about director Matej Minac's clunkily constructed documentary is what it says about our perverse but understandable need to spin some kind of happy ending onto the Holocaust. The need to find a spark of humanity amid catastrophic evil has manifested itself in various narrative feature films, from "Schindler's List" to "Defiance," to anything involving Wallenberg, as well as in any number of documentaries that recount acts of selflessness and bravery in the face of unspeakable cruelty. One wonders how the Holocaust ever happened, with such a wealth of charity abroad in the world.

Minac uses far too many re-enactments, to the point where they undermine the documentary integrity of his movie, and the coda/tribute to survivors is also overdone. To his credit, Minac looks beyond the saving of lives, but points out what was done with those lives, and the multiple generations that now exist thanks to one man's tenacity. Whether this is the lesson of the Holocaust, of course, is another story.

PLOT How an otherwise unassuming Englishman saved 669 Czech children from the Holocaust.


CAST Nicholas Winton, Ben Abeles, Dalai Lama


BOTTOM LINE A remarkable story, stiffly told.

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