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The Christian Science Monitor
Review of Varian's War by M.S. Mason, television critic
April 20, 2001


A man named Varian Fry was one of the unsung heroes of World War II. Now an excellent made-for-TV movie finally celebrates this "American Schindler" ("Varian's War" on Showtime, Sunday, 8-10 p.m., starring William Hurt, Julia Ormond, and Alan Arkin).
 
While Oscar Schindler saved 1,000 people from Nazi destruction, Mr. Fry saved well over 2,000. Acting with a handful of American friends, and without the help of the American government, Fry rescued Jewish and other European artists and intellectuals - such as painter Marc Chagall, political philosopher Hannah Arendt, historian Heinrich Mann, and artist Max Ernst - from French fascists in Marseilles.
 
"Varian Fry's enemies were not the Nazis," says writer and director Lionel Chetwynd, "they were the French fascists. There was a vast and elaborate collaboration between the French and the Germans at the level of the state and among ordinary people.... Fry was thrown out of unoccupied France by the French for aiding Jews and other anti-Nazis."
 
Fry was a wealthy New Yorker, who had grown up in Europe. A Harvard graduate and a Christian, he numbered among his friends Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who helped plan the actions of the Emergency Rescue Committee.
 
Realizing from firsthand experience what the fascists are up to, Fry breezes into unoccupied Marseilles and checks into a four-star hotel. With the help of Harry Bingham of the US Consulate, an American woman (Julia Ormond), and a couple of street-smart rebels, he outsmarts the opposition.
 
William Hurt is superb, restrained, and constantly inventive as Fry. He projects a profound conscience and sensitivity, as well as integrity. Fry is confronted with the dark side of his mission of mercy - there are only a few he can save and thousands needing to be saved. So he must choose among them. The moral dilemma is great, and neither Hurt nor writer-director Chetwynd minimize it. But, Mr. Chetwynd points out, Fry had a special charge.
 
"Most stories about the Holocaust are about the degradation of the body. This story is not about bodies, but about the soul," Chetwynd says.
 
Fry was trying to save the soul and conscience of Europe. Hitler had millions in his thrall. But many who refused to be hypnotized were the special targets of his antagonism, along with the Jews. Fry saved those persecuted who could express themselves through art, so that they in turn would help wake the conscience of America. One of Chetwynd's nicest touches is to show the women of the era not as politically correct proto-feminists, but as they were - courageous, smart, and refined.

  2001, The Christian Science Publishing Society

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