The Survivor Review – Period Piece Delivers, A Must-See Drama

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The Survivor, from HBO Pictures, presents the story of Harry Haft, an Auschwitz survivor, and one of the first survivors to tell of the horrors as a prisoner, and his effort to find life after unspeakable tragedy.

The film begins with Harry Haft, played by Ben Foster, walking along the shoreline looking at his shadow on the beach. A second shadow approaches and takes his hand, and we are then transported to Nazi Germany, where he, as a much younger man, and Leah, the love of his life, played by Dar Zuzovsky, are walking.


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We see they are Jewish and made to wear the star of David on their clothing. Leah picks up a rock and throws it with all her might as the truck of German soldiers drive by. She is taken and he never sees her again.

The film then returns to the present, Coney Island, New York, 1949. We see Harry preparing to enter the boxing ring. We hear the announcer introduce him, “fighting out of Brighten Beach, New York, the Pride of Poland, and the Survivor of Auschwitz.” For some reason Harry is in a slump and is being pulverized. At ringside, John Leguizamo plays his trainer, Bill “Pepe” Miller, and his manager, Louis Barclay is played by Paul Bates, and his brother, Peretz Haft played by Saro Emirze.

Also, at ringside a journalist, Emory Anderson, played by Peter Sarsgaard, watches Harry with deep interest, throughout the fight we see him. After the fight, and another defeat, he is approached by Anderson to tell his story. How did he survive Auschwitz? By all who know him is cautioned to never tell the story of his survival.


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He suffers from PTSD, which didn’t have a name then and wasn’t part of a national conversation on mental health, more it was seen as a weakness, a flaw in character. When he explains this to his brother, he says, just put it out of your mind, don’t allow the thoughts to take hold. Stop them. Harry doesn’t have this will power, he is desperately seeking his Leah and will do anything to find her.

Weekly he stops by a survivor’s office, where thousands are looking for someone, anyone, from their past. Someone had to survive and frustrated as the days, weeks, months pass with no hope, his frustration rises to the point of lashing out. The secretary at the reunification officer, Miriam, played by Vicky Krieps, is able to calm him. She explains the volume of survivors exactly in his same situation.

He decides to tell his story to the journalist which is when the film moves into the past. Given cremation duty he and several others are carrying the dead to be burned in the camps. A friend, Jean, played by Laurent Papot, recognized his wife, and is overcome with sorrow. A guard orders them back to work, and threatens to kill them, Harry responds and begins to beat the guard when a Nazi Colonel Schneider, played by Bill Magnussen stops them.


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Schneider sees him as a pet. He takes him to the infirmary; we hear the special arrangements that are made to keep Harry from the gas chambers. Soon after, Schneider wants him to teach him to box, and at his own urging, Harry lands a solid right hook and the Colonel laughs. At this point, he explains in order to keep up his strength to box he will receive more rations, which he keeps and give to those in his barracks. To alleviate his worry over his family, the Colonel rescues his brother and reunites them. Then we understand why.

When the story breaks in New York City, Harry becomes a pariah within his community and still desperately in need to find Leah urges his manager to book a fight with Rocky Marciano, played by Anthony Molinari who is managed by Charley Goldman, played by Danny DeVito.

The Survivor, a must-see film, is poignant and heartfelt. With raw and real emotions, the story is haunting, exposing a painful and brutally honest historical truth. The performances are authentic capturing the times, without the overlay of modern explanations or knowledge.

The Survivor, affecting and genuine, is streaming now on HBO. See it and then see it again.


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Country: USA.

Language: English, German, Yiddish, with English Subtitles.

Runtime: 129minutes.

Director: Barry Levinson.

Producer: Aaron L. Gilbert, Barry Levinson, Scott Pardo, Jason Sosnoff.

Writer: Justine Juel Gillmer, based on the book by Alan Scott Haft.

Cast: Ben Foster, Vicky Krieps, Saro Emirze, John Leguizamo, Danny DeVito, Billy Mannussen, Peter Saragaard, Dar Zuzovsky, Paul Bates, Kingston Vernes, Zachary Golinger, Sophie Knapp, Charles Brice, Erik Contzius, Sonya Cullingford, Laurent Papot, Anthony Molinari.

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