Films like Martha Coolidge’s I’ll Find You are always timely but I’ll get to why that is eventually. I’ll start almost at the beginning of this film, where a boy leads another, Robert Pulaski (Sebastian Croft) to a secret room. They’re both students in a music academy, Robert at a time trying to be a violinist. One of the girls in the secret society in the school’s attic is Rachel Rubin (Ursula Parker). She is so good playing the same instrument that he quits playing.
Fortunately, at a party, Robert sings a Christmas carol so well that he switches from the violin to singing. They’re still students in the academy well into their twenties, and they grew out of being rivals and turn into lovers. They see each other while waiting to enter singing and violin playing competitions. Competitions aren’t their only barriers though. Robert (Leo Suter) is Polish Catholic and Rachel (Adelaide Clemens) is Jewish – in 1939. David S. Ward and Bozenna Intrator’s script can either set up something good or mess it up.
Films like this have the job to capturing the reality of that time, and in fairness to it, it follows the trend in recent war movies to show less gray and show more colour. It sees Lodz, the movie’s setting during its first half, as a vibrant city before the Germans came. The movie, then has two choices. Either it can depict the city as one oblivious to European politics or one that talks about that topic too much. Or maybe it can depict the city as both, but the mix feels awkward here.
I’ll Find You, then, shows that its job is more difficult that it seems, mostly because it’s trying to get in its own way. Eventually, the German Army enters Polish territory. Even in depicting such difficult times, this film has tendencies to turn everything into a romantic gesture that it feels flat if not outright ridiculous. That earnestness turns into ridiculousness in the scenes involving Robert. There’s a specific scene when tries to run towards the truck taking the Rubins away which, again, seems romantic. The film convinces viewers that the Germans painstakingly went through different secret rooms to arrest the Rubins. Meanwhile they’re oblivious, if not indifferent to the Polish guy in the street. One who’s crying because they’re taking that specific Jewish family away.
I’ll Find You, although a failure, is still an interesting one. It somehow roped in a few veteran actors to play older supporting roles. Stephen Dorff plays General Huber, one of the ‘good Germans’. And I appreciate that this movie follows the recent trend of making Nazis look normal (i.e. ugly) regardless of whether or not they’re paycheque Nazis. Connie Nielsen plays Robert and Rachel’s teacher. The movie depicts her leaving a building with swastika banners before the army arrests the Rubins, and I have ambivalent feelings about how the movie never addresses this afterwards. For God’s sake someone put Connie Nielsen in a good movie.
Lastly, Stellan Skarsgard plays one of Robert’s childhood musical heroes who helps Robert and has his own convoluted plans of getting Rachel out of Auschwitz. Skarsgard as an ascot wearer in a house full of gold can’t save this movie. But I will always have fond memories of him signing an operatic song about a rumour about Hitler’s anatomy (a real song, by the way). And that fondness carries even if Skarsgard are Suter are lip syncing. The voices are trained enough that they come off as real, the only real thing in this movie.
Let’s return to Suter then. Lip syncing or actual singing are his assets here, and he’s also a good crier. But the third gives him the chance to physicalize just how difficult the next few years will be. He is, after all, looking for someone before computers were a thing, and he fails evince that difficulty. The same goes for every other actor Robert talks to as he tries to look for Rachel. They act like nice but deadpan people who were for the DMV. They should acting like people handling sensitive information that mean a lot to people. Which is their job as actors.