Based on Michael Morpurgo’s book released last year, Waiting for Anya is a beautifully photographed homage to the rescuers of stranded children during World War II. Stranger Things’ Noah Schnapp holds his own in the lead role of Jo, a young villager in the south of France whose peaceful idyll is about to be shattered. The story brings back reminders of last year’s Resistance telling the true life story of mime artist, Marcel Marceau.
The year is 1943 and although Europe is ravaged by the horrors of world war, Jo’s life has remained remarkably untouched. He spends his days shepherding sheep or running errands for widow Horcada (played by Anjelica Huston), a recluse who lives in the mountains. While out shepherding one day, Jo almost becomes a meal for a brown bear. News of the attack reaches the men of the village who swiftly gather up arms to hunt the beast.
Unbeknownst to all is that, the bear leaves a young cub that’s been rescued by Benjamin (played by Frederick Schmidt), a stranger Jo meets the following day. Feeling responsible for the motherless cub, Jo follows Benjamin back to his lodgings, hoping to find the bear cub. Instead, Jo learns that Benjamin is Horcada’s son-in-law, a Jew who escaped the concentration camps, and waits for the hopeful arrival of his daughter, Anya. This question is answered in the final moments of the film, but bears little relevance to the rest of the story.
While waiting for Anya, Horcada and Benjamin have devised the means to rescue scores of Jewish children, sending them deep into the mountains to cross the border into Spain. When German troops move into his village, Jo finds himself caught up in the conspiracy and enlists the help of his grand-père (played by Jean Reno), a veteran of The Great War. Jo is to become more conflicted when the German Corporal (played by Thomas Kretschmann) strikes up a friendship with him, finding a common interest in the local bird life. The futility of war is a theme that surfaces through this narrative between oppressor and detainee, soon deepened when the Corporal experiences death at his own front door. It brings about a retrospection and melancholy that clouds his judgment and tests his faith to the motherland.
Set against the backdrop of the French Pyrenees and perils of foreign occupation, this tale steers close to material seen before. However the characters are a treat to spend some time with.
Waiting for Anya opens nationally today. Check your local guides for screening times.
About Waiting for Anya
Running time: 109 mins
Directed by Ben Cookson
Written by Toby Torlesse, Ben Cookson
Stars Noah Schnapp, Thomas Kretschmann, Frederick Schmidt, Jean Reno, Declan Cole, Anjelica Huston