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Reviews for July 13th, 2022

My Name is Sara

Directed by Steven Oritt

      In 1942, Sara Góralnik (Zuzanna Surowy) a 13-year-old Polish Jew, escapes to the Ukranian countryside after the Nazis killed her parents. She finds refuge with a farmer, Pavlo (Eryk Lubos), his wife, Nadya (Michalina Olszanska) and two kids in a small village while disguising herself as an Orthodox Christian with the name of Manya, her best friend. In exhange for food and shelter, she agrees to work on the farm.

      My Name is Sara begins after the horrors that Sara experienced during the Holocaust when the Nazis killed her family. The screenplay by David Himmelstein essentially skips the first and act jumps right into the second act as Sara and her brother flee the Nazis in the woods. Within the first few minutes, Sara already decides to assume a new name and new identity to save her life while hiding her Jewish background. She knows how to do the sign of the cross with her hands which proves to Pavlo that she's a Christian and he agrees to take her in. Although the premise sounds like it could've been turned into a taut, harrowing, intense suspense thriller, it doesn't quite reach those heights. Nor does it become a heartfelt and engrossing character study, either. The plot just seems to be going through the motions with allowing the audience enough moments to connect with any of the characters on an emotional level. It also lacks focus and meanders when it delves into subplots involving the relationship between Pavlo and his wife. There are a few gripping and moving scenes, though, like when a priest realizes that Sara isn't Chrisian or when Sara meets a Jewish girl and tries to teach her how to pretend to be a Christian. It's great to see a character like Sara be so kind, courageous and resilient during times of adversity, so it's a shame that My Name is Sara doesn't stop and get to know her a little more. What were her parents like? How has she dealt with her traumatic experiences as a human being? The ending leaves more questions than answers while leaving too much to the audience's imagination. Sara's last few lines of dialogue feel stilted and tacked-on, so the beat of poignancy doesn't land. It's as though the filmmaker were trying too hard to make the audience shed a tear.

      The performances range from decent to wooden, but, to be fair, even a great performance wouldn't be able to rise above the often stitled screenplay. The sweeping, breathtaking landscape adds some visual style, but not enough to hold your attention. The lighting, costume design and music score are fine as is the editing. At a running time of 1 hour and 51 minutes, My Name is Sara, could've been as powerful, moving and haunting The Boy in the Striped Pajamas with a more sensitive, unflinching screenplay. Instead, it's often stilted, meandering and dull.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Strand Releasing.
Opens at Quad Cinema.