Monday, May 27, 2013

Nicky's Family (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Nicky's Family

"Nicky's Family" by Slovak director Matej Minak is a documentary detailing the efforts of Nicholas Winton, a Briton who was responsible for saving over 660 children from concentration camps and certain death in a 1938 Nazi-occupied Prague. Winton was a 30 year old stock broker at the time in Prague on a visit to his friend. Winton intended a time of leisure, but when he got a phone call that his friend could not attend a skiing vacation due to the terrible movement of children to the camps. Winton decided in spontaneity, to spring to his friends cause. The agencies at hand were advocating for the sick and elderly but nothing was being done for the children. Winton wrote a letter to FDR, explaining his cause and got a letter of regret from the American embassy. He had no office to organize, but worked at home and assembled a dossier of children in need, reaching the thousands in photos. Winton documented his entire progress and put it all in an scrapbook which was thought to be lost.

He told no one of his child-rescue efforts, not even his wife.

While "Nicky's Family" is one of many  Holocaust documentaries, its slant is unique in that it highlights the issue of children's terror and flight in 1938 Czechoslovakia after Neville Chamberlain's Munich Agreement which annexed Czech, Slovak and Poland to the nazi regime. The film intersperses interviews of Winton himself with sepia toned images of children playing before the occupation, and the cinematography is vivid and handsome akin to a Herge illustration. It is difficult to keep a dry eye when you see these children playing before the annexation. The sensation is like watching a black glove attempting to stifle the breath of the young in innocence. And it is harder still not to lose it when you watch the children having to leave their mothers as they board trains bound for the Penny Lane safety of England, only to suddenly see them as octogenarian kids, leaping on bunks and talking with nostalgic seriousness on the very same train that brought them escape.

Nicholas Winton himself could appear in a Tintin episode as he gently smiles, his cheeks blushing in self deprecating dimples. He is seen as a beloved uncle to countless people. At 104, he shrugs off the selfishness of fame, having no use for it. Now he highlights many altruistic organizations, not least of which are homes for the elderly. At the time of filming, well over 90, Winton hoped to get arrested for speeding, forever critical of British driving laws. We also  see the Dalai Lama who smilingly attests to the importance of  Winton, but one does not really need the very  physical  light of his holiness The Dalai Lama to underscore Winton's courage. That said, he inspires a comforting anodyne, soothing a previous emotional scene.

Winton is an epic figure of adventure status (despite being eclipsed by Oskar Schindler) and he did so not out of fame or fortune, but in accordance with his natural rhythms. Winton exemplifies goodness brought about by spontaneous motion. Through his act, his universality inspires other acts that ripple through the night like stars, as symbolized by the film's final image of cell phones winking in the dark.

"Nicky's family" ultimately creates a lively scrapbook of color and emotion, illustrating one story of an unassuming man that thankfully added to so many others.

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