Haunted by a horrible incident, a writer struggles with present

Posted: May 16, 2008

'To live with ghosts requires solitude," says the writer Jakob Beer, a man understandably haunted by his past - and unable to live in the present, with his loving wife, because childhood traumas linger in his dreams. And, in the pages of his manuscript.

Fugitive Pieces, based on the novel by the Canadian Anne Michaels, and brought to the screen by Canadian Jeremy Podeswa (The Five Senses), is a handsome, emotionally predictable affair about surviving: A child (the young Jakob, played by Robbie Kay) witnesses the murder of his parents and abduction of his sister by Nazis. Only 9, he is smuggled out of Poland by a Greek archaeologist (Rade Sherbedgia), who takes Jakob back to Zakynthos and raises him as his own.

After World War II, the pair immigrate to Canada, living in a building where a neighboring Jewish family has survived the Holocaust. Jakob grows up to be a writer, and to be played by Stephen Dillane. He meets the beautiful Alex (Rosamund Pike). They wed. But Jakob's obsession with his past, with the unknown fate of his sister, makes the relationship untenable.

Podeswa's film has a clean sheen, and the cast is uniformly attractive and earnest. But the romanticized image of the tortured artist - never mind how warranted his or her angst might be - is the stuff of stereotype unless it's leavened with humor, or limned in art. In Fugitive Pieces, neither element appears in sufficient quantity.

Fugitive Pieces **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Jeremy Podeswa. With Stephen Dillane, Robbie Kay, Rosamund Pike and Rade Sherbedgia. Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films. In English, and in Greek and Yiddish with subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, sex, nudity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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