This lugubrious film about a Holocaust survivor is based on a respected novel by Canadian poet Anne Michaels. I've never read it, and the worst thing about this adaptation is the idea of reading it now fills me with horror. I'm fairly certain the book has few, if any, of the faults of the movie—neither the stultifyingly steady pace nor the loads of sentiment slathered upon innocent objects would work quite the same way on a page. But the cowardly deference the Canadian screenwriter and director Jeremy Podeswa have shown to the novel make me nervous that it has some power to turn a reader's brain to mush.
The film opens with Jakob (Stephen Dillane, as melancholy as a pebble in a stream) rehearsing a beautifully lit memory of his childhood escape from the Nazis. Shortly thereafter, the film plays the glossy memory all over again, with the addition of a few shots not strictly from young Jakob's point of view. What is the point of showing this sequence again? What does it tell us about grief, or trauma, or guilt, or obsession? I think it tells us that some director thinks that memory is like a movie that you can rewind and play again. He couldn't have been trying to save money—the film looks surprisingly expensive.
The rest of the movie is nothing special. Jakob breaks up with a lovely woman (Rosamund Pike) who can't understand why he's so gloomy all the time. But at least he's not as hardened as the Holocaust survivor across the hall (Diego Matamoros), who rules his little household with a fascist fist. Fugitive Pieces is all about glorifying a state of humorless suspension, where you dwell stoically in the past until, suddenly, you are rescued by a demure, unchallenging version of romantic love. It's depressing.