Based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel, first published in 1990. Director Ben Cookson navigates the tightrope of bringing holocaust drama to children’s orientated filmmaking. While embracing the challenge of filming entirely on location. With the French mountain village at the centre of Morpurgo’s book, providing an important backdrop to the narrative. Creating a film that excels in both visual style and complexity. While at times lacking in bite and danger in its exploration of an occupied land, holocaust and community bravery. Leaving Waiting for Anya with a curious yet compelling mix of children’s drama and historical insight. While never quite reaching the dramatic or emotional heights of films like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
At the centre of the story sits young Shepard Jo (Noah Schnapp), a delicate and empathetic teenage boy. Who continues the Shepherding life of his father (Gilles Marini) in a small isolated French village in the Pyrenees. However, Jo’s father is absent from his life, sitting in a distant labour camp after fighting in the war effort to save France from the march of fascism. While his mother struggles to maintain a normal family life. And his rebellious Grandfather (Jean Reno) continues to fight for freedom in his own secretive way.
Jo’s life is generally free from the horror and ravages of war. His secluded community routine continuing as normal despite the march of horror across Europe. However, this all changes on escaping the claws of a bear trying to protect her cub in the woods. Leading Jo to a mysterious meeting with a stranger named Benjamin (Frederick Schmidt), a Jewish man in hiding. A man who escaped from forced transportation to a concentration camp. While also ensuring his young daughter (Anya) found freedom in the arms of a woman on a public train. His agreement with his daughter that they would meet again on the boarder with Spain as soon as she was able to travel.
The meeting sparks Jo’s interest and curiosity as he explores his own ignorance of the events surrounding him. His journey into the realities of adulthood interfacing with the protective walls of his childhood. A dynamic handled beautifully by Noah Schnapp, as a reflects the no mans land between childhood innocence and adult awakening.
Director: Ben Cookson