The film is an impressive and often quite moving tale of emotional entrapment that will connect with festival and specialty venue audiences. Veteran actor Stephen Dillane skillfully underplays the troubled character, giving him a placid surface beneath which you feel the horror, frustration and anguish churning ever more. He is a man cut off from life, unable to sustain a first marriage because, as he says, "to live with ghosts requires solitude."
Jakob Beer (Dillane) is haunted by images from one day and night in 1942 when World War II invaded his parents' comfortable cottage on the edge of a forest in Poland. He sees over and over the terror in the faces of his parents and sister. Jakob (played as a youngster by a wide-eyed though mostly mute Robbie Kay) sees the moment of his father's death and of his sister being dragged from the house.
That night, he flees and hides in the forest where a Greek archaeologist, Athos (Rade Sherbedgia), discovers him and decides to smuggle him out of Poland to his home on a Greek island. Both lives are saved by this impulsive act because days later the Germans overrun the archeological dig and killed everyone there.
But Jakob can't help but wonder down through the years, as Athos raises him and after the war moves him to Canada when Athos acquires a teaching position: What happened to his beautiful, piano-playing sister, Bella (Nina Dobrev)? What if he had stayed in the house? Might she have come back?
The ray of sunshine that is his first wife, Alex (Rosamund Pike), fails to penetrate his soul. He finds more solace with his Yiddish-speaking neighbors, who are also Holocaust survivors. Athos tries to reach him with pithy sayings and folk wisdom from the Old Country but it lacks the power of Jakob's ghosts. When Athos dies, Jakob returns to the Greek island to bury Athos' ashes and take solace in his writing, the only place where past and present can reflectively co-exist.
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