“A Bag of Marbles” (“Un Sac de Billes” in its original French) traces the steps of two young Jewish brothers through the timeline of Nazi-occupied France. The film features an incredible story that winds its way throughout the country, exploring themes of identity, survival, faith and oppression along the way.
The movie is the story of the youngest Joffo brothers, Maurice and Jo, and is an adaptation of a 1973 French autobiographical novel by Joseph Joffo. The film is presented in French with English subtitles, with Yiddish and German peppered throughout.
The first act follows Jo and Maurice as they engage in the hallmarks of a normal childhood: games, pranks and sneaking cigarettes. Their forced journey starts with the assignment of yellow stars of David, ordered to be stitched onto their clothing. Later, a friend offers Jo a bag of marbles in return for the star, a schoolyard trade with greater symbolic depth, as Jo is forced to trade away his Judaism for safety and survival throughout the film.
The film chronicles the tragic descent of France’s Jews from oppression to persecution to brutality, targeted by the Nazis and French ultranationalists alike. The film’s many interrogation scenes are all traumatic, and the constant denials of faith required for survival never lose their impact.
However, lovable characters and a sense of adventure against animosity keep a difficult movie from being merely a tearjerker. There’s a sense of love and warmth throughout the film as the boys continue to jab at each other and play pranks even in their journey’s darkest points.
“A Bag of Marbles” feels theatrical and enlightening, heartwarming and horrifying, all in the same story. The film, however hard to watch at times, never loses its sense of heart and leads its audience to a powerful, emotional payoff.
Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Jan. 28, 4:20 p.m., Hollywood; Feb. 2, 3:50 p.m., Hollywood; Feb. 3, 3:25 p.m., Tara, and 3:55 p.m., Springs; Feb. 4, 4:25 p.m., Atlantic Station