Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Radu Milhaileanu
A film with a strong humanist message that also milks the horrors of the holocaust for some wonderful laughs, Train Of Life cannot avoid comparisons with Roberto Benigni’s Oscar winning Life Is Beautiful, or even Robin Williams’ lesser Jakob The Liar. Rumanian director Radu Milhaileanu even sent a copy of the script for Train Of Life to Benigni in 1996, hoping to convince the energetic Italian comic to star in his film.
The film is set in a Jewish village in Eastern Europe in 1941. Rumours are circulating that the Nazis are deporting Jews to the concentration camps. Anxious to avoid deportation, the Jewish population decide upon a clever ruse to fool the Nazis and escape from Europe and eventually reach the promised land of Palestine. The clever scheme is the idea of the village idiot Shlomo (Lionel Abelanski, in the role originally written for Benigni), who uses his madness as a disguise to maintain distance from the idle politics of the village. They pool resources to build their own train and escape to Russia under the very noses of their enemy.
But the trip is not without its unexpected problems. A clique of communist ideologues begin to exercise their socialist rights and upset the other passengers. Others resent the fact that those disguised as the German escort get to ride in comfort while they are crammed into the freight cars.
Train Of Life occasionally threatens to be overwhelmed by the complexities of the multi-layered and very busy and fast paced plot. However, veteran director Milhaileanu (Betrayed, etc) thankfully handles the material with surprising dexterity that enables audiences to suspend disbelief for mush of the duration. Milhaileanu also demonstrates a rather perverse and delightfully irreverent sense of humour that exploits many of the stereotypical clichés of the Jewish faith for laughs. Train Of Life is a charming and lively romp, and there are some delightful sight gags. Beautifully shot in wide screen by Yorgos Arvanitis and Laurent Dailland, Train Of Life is a moving and uplifting and unexpectedly enjoyable film.