Dark Secrets and Passion
Whilst travelling by train Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal (Martin Landau - Empire State) ends up in conversation with a former soldier who says not all German's are evil some were just following orders and maybe he should take an interest in a certain factory. It leads Wiesenthal to uncover factory owner Werner Schultze (Jonny Phillips) was a commandant at a labour camp. But without testimony of those who survived the camp during his control his knowledge is useless which in turns leads him to survivor Max Rosenberg (Treat Williams - Once Upon a Time in America) who is uncomfortable with telling his story but eventually opens up about how he ended up in the camp with the woman, Helen (Alice Krige - The Sorcerer's Apprentice), he loved but he escaped and spent the next 20 years looking for the woman he loved.
When it comes to holocaust movies many know of "Schindler's List" but it is not the only one and there have been many movies about the holocaust made both since and before Spielberg's famous movie. "Max and Helen" is one which came before and is a beautifully crafted movie which combines three things; the work of Simon Wiesenthal to get justice, the romantic drama of Max and Helen and then the horrors of the holocaust. It is by no means the grittiest movie about the holocaust but for a TV movie it is an impressively crafted one.
Now the opening 20 minutes of "Max and Helen" belongs to Martin Landau who embodies his Simon Wiesenthal with a sense of drive and desperation to bring justice against those he has proof of war crimes. He plays him with such single minded determination that he captures your attention yet as the story unfolds and we watch him getting to talk to Rosenberg he brings out this compassionate side as he listens to his story.
It is very much Rosenberg's account of his experiences which make up the majority of the movie as this leads us back initially to 1939 and Helen's father wanting Max to marry her early so that he can take her to live with him in safety to Paris where he is studying. But this evolves and takes us through the deportation and separation as Jewish families are split up and sent to labour camps with Max and Helen with her younger sister sent to one camp whilst her parents are sent to another, suffering heavy handed treatment as they are loaded on to trains and wagons. Now I am not going to go into specifics of what happened after this but we see Max, Helen and Sister arrive in a labour camp, suffer the harsh treatment after initially thinking they are getting a reprieve before Max decides to escape with Helen deciding to stay because her sister is to ill. Plus there is a shock and I do mean a shock which will leave you drop jawed but also feeling sick as you think it through.
Now because I have seen a few holocaust movies I will say that whilst what we get shown now feels cliche it is still hard hitting. And if you like being sadly familiar is not actually a problem as the writing is very good throughout and the cinematography, remembering this is a TV movie, is first rate. Director Philip Saville has crafted an impressive movie on what I am sure was a fraction of the budget of big screen movies. But Saville benefits from a good cast with not just Landau impressing but also Treat Williams and Alice Krige who bring the love story and the drama of the movie to life.
What this all boils down to is that considering its age and that it is a TV movie "Helen and Max" is an impressive movie which not only dramatizes aspects of the holocaust but does so through a love story which is touching.