The Devil's Arithmetic (1999)
Back to the Holocaust
As a teenage Jew living in the modern world and hanging out with non Jewish friends Hannah Stern (Kirsten Dunst - Small Soldiers) struggles with her religion and the traditions of it. At a Passover meal Hannah rebels by not doing her part and being awkward but when her grandmother requests that she goes to open the door she finds herself in another country and another time as she discovers she is in 1940's Poland. Suddenly the Holocaust is brought to life as she learns first hand about what her family and other Jews went through.
"The Devil's Arithmetic" is another movie which attempts to portray the horrors of the holocaust but in a different way to most with an element of time travel. That may sound wrong but it works because it brings to the fore a real world element of the young today not knowing their past as is the case of Hannah who has little interest in the traditions because she doesn't realise their importance. That makes this a movie which unlike other Holocaust movies targets a younger, teenage audience with a predominantly young cast lead by Kirsten Dunst and Brittany Murphy.
Now to me the whole idea is a good one because many of the better known Holocaust movies are maybe too heavy for younger audiences and this one certainly fills a gap in the market. But at the same time because it is aimed at a younger audience some of the horror is toned down, still delivering a sickening feeling as to what happened to the Jews during WWII but with less graphic nastiness than some movies. That means for an adult it makes it less effective than those better known movies but at the same time in the context of who this movie is made for it makes sense.
What also holds "The Devil's Arithmetic" back is that this is another TV movie and whilst there have been some exceptionally good TV movies about the Holocaust this one occasionally struggles to escape that cheap feeling. But whilst sometimes the sets look small or not quite right the acting is spot on with a good cast. Kirsten Dunst as Hannah is not only good as the rebellious teen struggling with respecting traditions but also when she finds herself back in 1941 and suddenly everything that she has read about and not paid much interest in is very real. But Dunst is matched by Brittany Murphy Rivkah who delivers this wonderfully gentle performance as Hannah's cousin in 1941.
What this all boils down to is that "The Devil's Arithmetic" is another holocaust movie but one specifically made for a teenage audience and as such whilst it shows many of the horrors of the holocaust it does occasionally feel toned down and avoiding some of the harder scenes which are found in other Holocaust movies.
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