Linda Oppelt
/ Categories: Arts & Culture


By John Mulderig/OSV News

NEW YORK. An inspiring but once little-known chapter of history provides the basis for the Holocaust drama “Irena’s Vow” (R, Quiver). The humane basic values of the story could potentially make it appealing for older teens as well as grown-ups. However, a plot development involving an objectively immoral situation requires careful assessment.

Sophie Nélisse plays Irena Gut, a young Catholic Polish woman swept up in — and left homeless by — the Nazi occupation of her homeland following the outbreak of World War II. Irena is eventually put to work as a waitress in the local Wehrmacht officers’ mess. She’s also placed in charge of the group of Jewish laundry workers who tend to the officers’ clothing.

Overhearing that all Jews in the area will be transported and liquidated in the near future, Irena resolves to act quickly. A lucky but unlikely opportunity to rescue her new friends arises when Major Rugemer (Dougray Scott), one of the soldiers who dines at the mess, decides to make Irena his personal housekeeper.

Rugemer has requisitioned a large villa with a multi-room basement. As Irena gets the dwelling ready for its new occupant, but before he moves in, she smuggles the launderers into the cellar and arranges to keep them safely concealed there.

The perils of the precarious situation uphold viewer interest in director Louise Archambault’s generally uplifting adaptation of screenwriter Dan Gordon’s play. But the film is not free of challenging content.

In addition to scenes of brutality, Irena has to confront an unforeseen problem when one of her proteges — who, with the arrival of a newcomer, now number 12 — becomes pregnant and announces her intention to terminate her baby’s life. Though this subplot has a happy ending, and shows Irena in a still more favorable light, it obviously constitutes mature fare.

So, too, does the turn the relationship between Irena and Rugemer takes as the movie nears its end. While revealing the specifics would constitute a spoiler, suffice it to say that — to borrow a phrase from Facebook — it’s complicated.

This aspect of the picture shouldn’t necessarily bar mature adolescents from watching it. But a family discussion might be needed to unpack its ins-and-outs.

The real-life Irena survived the global conflict and went on to marry United Nations worker William Opdyke. She resisted telling the tale of her wartime activities until provoked to do so, beginning in the 1970s, by a Holocaust denier. Having been honored both by the State of Israel and by St. John Paul II, she died in 2003 at age 85.

The film contains stylized but sometimes disturbing violence, including infanticide, implied nonmarital sexual activity and discussion of an abortion. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults.

(John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter/X @JohnMulderig1.)

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