Fanny's Journey is a Story of Heartbreak, Hope, and Ultimately Survival
From 1939 to 1945, the world ended up in turmoil and millions of people were killed. World War II was a bloody genocide where people were rounded up and systematically murdered because of their beliefs. Families were torn apart never to see one another again. All across Europe, Adolph Hitler and the Nazis wreaked havoc and left death and devastation in their wake. France was one of those targets and the effects were felt throughout the country.
Fanny (newcomer Leonie Souchaud) was 13 years old living in hiding with her two younger sister and several other Jewish children. Their parents had sent them away to keep them safe from the growing anti-Semitism sentiment in the country. As the Germans occupied more and more of France, it became clear the home where they were staying was no longer safe and they had to move closer to the Switzerland border.
Eventually, tensions grew near that escape as well and the woman in charge of looking after the children, Madame Forman (Cecile De France; Hereafter) decided the children needed to flee into Switzerland.
Unfortunately, since the children were undocumented, it would be difficult to smuggle them out of France. After Elie (Victor Meutelet; Salaud, on T'Aime), the oldest among them, was caught and captured by the Nazis, Madame Forman put Fanny in charge and she led herself, her sisters and 5 other children to freedom. She put the kids on a train and said she would meet them in the town closer to the border but when she didn't show up, they were left to run away on their own. However, they met with danger and peril along the way and almost ended up in prison camps.
Fanny's Journey is based on the real-life story of Fanny Ben-Ami and her younger sisters Erika and Georgette. Their story was first told in a book back in Israel in the 1960's. Years later, it was translated into French and, through that printing, it found its way made into a movie. Fanny is a strong, independent woman whose will to survive and get her sisters to safety, led her to lead them and five others to Switzerland. They lived through the war and returned home to France afterward but never found their parents. Eventually, they went to Israel where Fanny still resides today at 86 years old.
The film is a tense hour and a half that will make you cry, not only by the end but every time you think of it afterward. The actors, especially the young ones, are excellent while working with a heavy subject matter. De France is hard and unapologetic as Madame Forman (who is actually a compellation of people who helped the children) and Meutelet, while haunts you as the vivacious Elie who has tears in his eyes once he is captured, knowing his fate.
Ironically, the cinematography is beautiful with the French countryside as the backdrop for this intense drama. Director Lola Doillon (Call My Agent!) balances the picturesque scenery with the harsh reality of uniformed soldiers and guns to create a juxtaposition of light and dark; serenity and war. Her visuals will stay with you long after the film ends.
Gripping, heartbreaking and never more poignant than in today's social climate, especially in the United States, Fanny's Journey is a somber reminder of what can happen when hate and violence are left unchecked. The innocence of childhood so drastically taken from these kids, especially Fanny. This is a story that needs to be told over and over again because it is as devastating as it is uplifting and serves as a reminder to never forget and never let something like this happen again.