The early scenes of Martha Coolidge’s Holocaust romance “I’ll Find You” cover over-familiar ground with a Polish classical music subtext. A flashback takes us back to the days our future lovers met, as rival tween prodigies in pre-war Lodz, Poland. The foreshadowing is obvious and we aren’t the only ones who know the awful things to come.
The only thing that distinguishes the film’s opening act is the fact that a real violinist/actress, Ursula Parker, plays one of the fiddling kids. As Rachel Rubin, she is impressive, playing the real pieces by Chopin and others. Rachel is a bit of a smarty pants who lords it over the lesser mortals at their school. And young fellow fiddler Robert Pulaski (Sebastian Croft) is intimidated by her.
Besides, “she’s Jewish and I’m Catholic. There could never be a ‘crush.'” Famous last words.
The director of “Valley Girl,” “Rambling Rose” and “Lost in Yonkers” cuts back and forth between the kids as they meet and the young adults (Adelaide Clemens of “The Great Gatsby,” and Leo Suter) re-connect just as Poland is having to pay heed to what Germany is doing in Czechoslovakia, with Rachel engaged to another and Robert on the cusp of fame, not as a violinist, but as a tenor.
And through all this, I shrugged the picture off as it just lies there, flat, uninvolving and waiting for somebody to shock it to life. That’s what happens when the great Stellan Skarsgård shows up for the second time. As a great German tenor named Benno Moser (Skarsgård’s “Mamma Mia!” voice means his singing is dubbed), he’d met Robert as a boy soprano, telling him to look him up after his voice changed. Robert (newcomer Suter, quite good) takes him up on that as he flees Poland after Rachel and her family are rounded up.
Showing up at the tenor’s estate, Robert fears he’s gambled on a German who might not be a “Good German,” and willing to help him save Rachel. The aging diva does nothing to put his mind at ease, bulling past any talk of a young woman shipped to Auschwitz. He just wants to know about the kid’s voice. C’mon, he says as he sits at the piano. A duet!
“Hitler has only got one ball,” the tenor bellows, starting in on an infamous ditty beloved by the Brits, sung to the “River Kwai” “Col. Bogey’s March. “Göring has two but very small…”
The lad has his answer, and the obligation to join in.
“Himmler is rather sim’lar, But poor old Goebbels has no balls at all!”
Skarsgård lifts the movie and makes the later acts a serious improvement over the earliest ones.
The stakes have already been raised, with death all around them. The young singer has to control his emotions when they’re called on to perform Wagner to the Fuhrer and his minions. And the opera legend gradually gets involved in trying to save the star violinist of the Auschwitz inmate orchestra.
The war goes on and on Robert’s promise that “I’ll find you” and that they’ll meet at Carnegie Hall seems more and more remote.
The leads don’t have dazzling chemistry, but that’s partly due to the script giving them few opportunities for that.
It’s a fictional story and while it more or less tracks the course of the war, start to finish there’s this jerky, lurching quality to the narrative, with little flow and zero urgency considering the woman was at a death camp, after all.
Coolidge, who has done mostly TV in recent decades, has a film with built-in pathos and stakes and beautiful music, and she only manages a scene or two that deliver anything like real emotion.
Thus “I’ll Find You” comes off like a lot of the lip-sync’d singing and mimed playing of the actors portraying musicians — fake and lacking the heart and passion necessary to pull this off.
Cast: Adelaide Clemens, Leo Suter, Ursula Parker, Sebastian Croft, Stephen Dorff, Connie Nielsen and Stellan Skarsgård.
Credits: Directed by Martha Coolidge, scripted by David S. Ward and Bozenna Intrator. A Gravitas release.
Running time: 1:56