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April 19, 2024 / Elevation Pictures

Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Dougray Scott, Andrzej Seweryn, Maciek Nawrocki

Directed By: Louise Archambault

Warsaw, 1939: when the Nazis invade Poland, nurse Irena Gut (Sophie Nélisse) is displaced and forced to work in support of the German war effort, eventually assigned to run the home of a Nazi commandant (Dougray Scott). Instead of following the path of least resistance and gambling on her status and ethnicity to keep her safe, Irene risks everything to save a dozen Jewish refugees from persecution and murder, sheltering them under her boss's nose.

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating 3 out of 5

Irena's Vow brings an incredible and important true story to the big screen that benefits greatly from the lead performances of Sophie Nélisse and Dougray Scott, even if the creative choices made to tell the film hold the story back from its true potential.

While watching Irena's Vow, you cannot believe the story that unfolds on screen. A young Polish nurse who hid Jews in the house of a high ranking Nazi officer during World War II, it truly seems far-fetched. But the film tells the true story of Irena Gut Opdyke and the heroic lengths she went to protect Jews during the Nazi occupation of Poland. It is a remarkable story that deserves a big screen adaptation, and while the film’s screenplay creates a fully rounded story, it never leaps off the screen. Written by Dan Gordon, the playwright of the play of the same name in which the film is based upon, the film never fully embraces the medium in which the story is told. Each scene is staged like a play from the dialogue and blocking of characters, the lack of noteworthy cinematography or even the use of sound to engage all of the audience’s senses during the film. There is no questioning the importance of the story or its abilities to generate the stakes of the film on its own, and it manages to carry the film and alone is enough to justify giving Irena’s Vow a watch, but the lack of directorial efforts prevents this story from truly coming to life and becoming the great film it could have been.

In addition to an incredible story that you have to see to believe, the film is driven by two strong performances. Sophie Nélisse is fierce as Irena, capturing not only an intelligence as she outsmarts not only Nazi officers, but other Polish citizens to keep the Jews in her basement safe from the authorities, but also a determination to save a life at any costs. At times fearless while at others being petrified by what she is witnessing occurring in her country and grappling with what consequences her actions could hold for her, Nélisse is the beating heart of the film and gives a commanding performance that brings this remarkable young woman to life. Opposite Nélisse is Dougray Scott as Rugmer, the Nazi officer that Irena is employed by. Best known to North American audiences as Sean Ambrose, the villain of Mission: Impossible II, Scott knows how to send a chill down a viewer’s spine, which he effectively does throughout the film. His restraint with moments of controlled outbursts of anger and dominance make Rugmer one unnerving and cunning villain, but it’s in the quiet moments that Scott finds the complexity in his character. There is a compassion that he brings to the role, creating a character that lives in the moral gray rather than the stereotypical, cold Nazi officer we are used to seeing in cinema. And with the story largely focusing on Nélisse and Scott’s performances, the film is in capable hands that helps the film build upon its simplistic execution.

We are not even four months into 2024 yet, and we have already seen three projects based on the Holocaust. Each project has justified its existence with an incredible true story that audiences need to know, only made more important and relevant given current events today. But, after the masterful miniseries We Were the Lucky Ones and the gut wrenching emotions of One Life, Irena’s Vow struggles to leave a lasting impression on its viewers like these other two did. With strong performances from Sophie Nélisse and Dougray Scott, the true story of Irena Gut Opdyke is in more than capable hands that alone warrant a watch of Irena’s Vow, even if the filmmaking aspects hold the story back from being a strong cinematic experience.

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