The 2021 Jewish International Film Festival kicks off with a poignant tale of a young girl and her family migrating across Europe in the wake of the Nazi’s rise to power.
Every year, the Jewish International Film Festival gives Perth moviegoers a glimpse into the lives and stories of Jewish people from around the world. This year’s line-up remains no different, with a large variety of feature films and documentaries which cover the full extent of Jewish culture throughout the diaspora. One of the films making its debut at the Luna Cinemas as part of this year’s line-up is the German drama, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.
Caroline Link’s pre-holocaust drama tells the story of a young Jewish girl named Anna Kemper, as she and her family are faced with leaving their home in the early days of the Nazi’s rise to power. At first Anna is hesitant to leave because it would mean leaving behind her toys and friends, including her caring maidservant, Heimpi. Eventually Anna accepts the situation upon realising the impact that Hitler will have if he wins the election. From there the family go on a journey spanning many cities and communities across Europe.
Throughout the journey, the Kemper face many challenges which come with moving from town to town. For Anna and her brother, it’s as usual as going to school and trying making new friends. Later on the problems grow for the family when they are living on low wages, with a wave of Nazi fanaticism and anti-Semitism slowly emerging from around the corner. Throughout all this, the Kemper family grow to find the positive aspects of everywhere they visit, whilst Anna learns that the home she left behind is the one she will always have; her family.
From the start, I was impressed with how the film was paced. It felt like a coming-of-age, family road trip movie across Europe. All the while it kept the viewer constantly aware of the evils which were brewing around them which keeps them constantly on the move. It made me appreciate and acknowledge the many Jewish families who, during the early 30’s, managed to escape Germany and most of Europe for that matter, knowing very well the impact the Nazis would have over their lives.
In the beginning of the film, it portrays Anna and her family living a perfectly normal life in Germany. The kids are happily playing with their friends, the mother is practicing piano, and the father is busy at work writing articles for the local paper. This all changes when the news breaks that Anna’s father’s name is on Hitler’s list, filled with the names of Jews who pose a threat to the Nazis. This immediately forces the family to flee Germany. From there the film follows the Kemper family as they find a new home to live, in a world that slowly seems to be turning against them.
At its heart, this story revolves entirely around the point-of-view of Anna, as she tries her hardest to make sense of her new surroundings. The young child actor who plays Anna (Riva Krymalowski) does a beautiful job encapsulating Anna’s slow upbringing into a world she is not used to, whilst trying to find the positives in her everyday life. Whenever her family moved from place to place, I always found myself rooting for Anna to get along with the kids in her class or learn the language, because it showed how far she’s grown along her winding journey. Riva’s acting clearly stands out whenever she is confronted with aspect of her old home life in Germany which she left behind. Some of these aspects include her pink stuffed rabbit toy (yes, THAT pink rabbit in the films title) and her beloved maidservant, Heimpi, who acts as a guardian angel to the Kemper family. One scene, in which Anna gets a phone call from Heimpi whilst in Switzerland, stood out for me because of the impact it has on young Anna. Heimpi tells Anna that she has gone to work for another family, which crushes Anna because she’s the only fragment that Anna had left to remind her of her old life. It also struck a chord for me because of how well the film established Heimpi as somewhat of a parental guardian to Anna and her brother.
Upon reading up on this film in the JIFF program, I notice one review compared the film to Taika Waititi’s 2019 film, Jojo Rabbit, yet with a less zany tone. As much as I loved how Waititi depicted childhood in WW2 through the eyes of a young Hitler youth, I greatly appreciated the less satirical tone that ‘Pink Rabbit’ portrayed through its depiction of a Jewish girl, growing up in the early days of the holocaust. As mentioned earlier, the film does not shy away from describing the horrors that Jewish people in Germany (and later all of Europe) faced once Hitler came to power, with characters occasionally mentioning break-ins and arrests which were orchestrated by the Nazis. Later on the film does show the Kemper family experiencing a wave of antisemitism from their neighbours in Paris. Despite the fact that there are no Nazis present throughout the entire movie (apart from one kid earlier in the film who dresses up like a Nazi for a children’s birthday party), one is constantly aware of the looming danger this family faces.
Despite this tense atmosphere, ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ is a movie filled with warmth, hope and optimism. It was heart-warming watching the Kemper family persevere throughout the film and try to overcome the challenges they faced as a family. Ultimately this is a story about holding onto the things you have when all seems lost, and how with the right people, anywhere can become home. This is definitely worth seeing if you like dramas made with a heap of heart and childlike wonder within them.