My Name Is Sara movie review & film summary (2022)

As directed by Steven Oritt and written by David Himmelstein (screenwriter of many acclaimed historical dramas, including “Soul of the Game”) the movie excels at putting the audience in the position of its teenage heroine (Zuzanna Surowy), who’s lost and alone in hostile terrain, making things up as she goes. The story begins with Sara and her elder brother parting ways after he tells her that she has a better chance of getting through the war because he’s more identifiably Jewish than she is. His insight is only partly validated: from the moment that Sara gets work as a nanny on the farm in Ukraine (which is also under German control) barely a scene passes without somebody casting doubt on her story or looking at her in a way that makes us think she’s being suspected of lying.

Sara tells the her employers—the farmer Pavlo (Eryk Lubos) and his wife, Nadya (Michalina Olszanska)—that she’s fleeing a bad domestic situation: her mother died, her father remarried a woman who hates her, and now there’s a new baby. Pavlo accepts this account, but Nadya thinks it’s fishy. For much of the rest of the film, Nadya stares daggers through the heroine no matter what’s transpiring. Sometimes she suspects Sara of being a Jew. Other times she seems to think the new girl is a hustler who will seduce Pavlo. Pavlo is depressed and resentful. The Nazis are destroying his livelihood by demanding a set amount of livestock and grain to feed occupying troops. He’s also a widower who lost his first wife and their child (presumably in the war, though we don’t get the details), and there are times when he looks at his new wife as if realizing he made a terrible mistake. This is not a good situation, even for a makeshift wartime arrangement.

Drawing on the real Sara’s story, the movie contrives scenes in which Sarah, who presents herself as “Manya,” could be found out unless she manifests instincts or generates knowledge that will permit her to “pass” (such as being able to make the sign of the cross). So deft is the film’s mastery of basic subjective filmmaking techniques that when Sara enters a small-town church, it’s as if we’re following a mouse into a barn filled with cats. Sometimes the movie turns the thumbscrews on the audience by letting us know that an uncomfortable moment is coming long before it happens, as when a woman tells “Manya” that she can’t wait to see her again next week so that she can connect her with somebody who’s known her since she was a little girl.

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