"Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning" is a poignant movie that deals with three survivors of an internment camp during WW II. Though the pace of the movie is slow, it flows well and the story of three 'damaged ' individuals is poignantly told. The fine acting by a stellar cast makes this a riveting watch.
Susan Sarandon plays Melanie, a 50-something year-old woman who lives in Quebec with her retired college professor husband, David [Christopher Plummer], son Benjamin and young grandson Timmy. Melanie is an emotionally-disturbed woman, a legacy from her traumatic childhood experiences during WW II. As a child, Melanie was sent to the transit camp Drancy in France, and never saw her parents again. She meets a young Irish boy, Christopher [Gabriel Byrne] and both youngsters are taken under the protective wings of an older young man, Jakob [Max Von Sydow]. The three form a life-long bond even after the end of the war.
Fast forward 35 years later - Melanie has invited Jakob to spend some time with her, and to her surprise, Christopher tags along too. Painful memories are stirred up - and things are made more awkward and difficult given that Melanie's husband David is resentful of the two visitors and jealous of Melanie's closeness to Christopher. The rest of the story deals with how the three survivors make peace with their past, especially Melanie and answers whether closure is something they can achieve.
The acting in this movie was top-notch. Susan Sarandon credibly portrays a survivor who is wracked by guilt [common amongst many survivors of the Holocaust] and who is extremely determined not to forget. Her pain is so palpable and yet frustrating because we can see how her pain and determination to live in the past has taken a toll on her family life. Max Von Sydow is amazing in his portrayal of a selfless man who sacrificed his very happiness and life for the sake of his young charges - being shipped off to Auschwitz, and then enduring decades in Stalin's Gulag before finally resuming some semblance of a normal life. His most striking dialogue in the film is the phrase "If you ask me if I believe in God, I ask you does He believe in me?" is profound indeed.
Gabriel Byrne's Christopher is no less compelling. He plays a man who still holds a torch for his first and perhaps only love, Melanie and how he too has been traumatised by their camp experiences, though he chooses to dwell on the positive [meeting Melanie] rather than the bad. Christopher Plummer is also credible as the disillusioned husband who struggles to come to terms with his wife's emotional instability, choosing to distance himself rather than extend comfort.
All in all, I loved this movie - it deals with the difficult themes of 'survivor guilt' and the emotional toll on the survivor's family. Yet, the movie explores these themes without actually showing any gruesome footage of the actual wartime experiences. Instead the principal actors are able to convey this pain and emotional baggage through their facial expressions and dialogue delivery.
The cinematography is breathtaking, and provides a vivid contrast to the deep pain and emotional scars within the three actors. The score is haunting and truly captures the emotions evoked by the movie. I highly recommend this to all those seeking a well-acted human drama.