In Poland, in 1942, a Jewish boy called Jakob witnesses his mother and father murdered and his sister hauled off by Nazi soldiers.
Traumatised, he runs and hides in the forest where he is found by Athos, a Greek archaeologist who, remarkably, is working on a dig nearby.
Athos takes pity on Jakob, brings him home to his Mediterranean island, where they survive the Nazi occupation, and then emigrate to Canada when Athos is offered an academic post there. Jakob grows up, marries, divorces, becomes an acclaimed writer, but remains haunted by images of his dead parents and the mystery of his beloved sister’s unknown but certainly horrific fate. But then he meets Michaela, who offers the chance of release from the ghosts of his past.
Adaptated from Anne Michaels’s bestselling novel, Fugitive Pieces examines how love and compassion can repair the damage done by tragedy and guilt.
Writer/director Jeremy Podeswa does a good job keeping confusion at bay as the story moves back and forth between three countries, between wartime and the 1960s, and between English, Greek and Yiddish. If the film proceeds slowly, there are enough moments of real emotional impact to prevent any suggestion of longeurs.
Stephen Dillane is quietly impressive as the adult Jakob, but the stand-out performances come from 12-year-old Robbie Kay as the silent, fragile boy and Rosamund Pike as Alex, the wife Jakob rejects for her “shameless vitality”.
Alex is a far more vivid presence than Michaela - Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer does her best as the redemptive love interest, but the prolonged besotted gazing between her and Dillane causes the film to fall away a little at the end.