Opening this weekend at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield is film intended for the whole family. "Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog" evokes memories of the Oscar-winning 1997 film, "Life Is Beautiful." In that movie, a Jewish father (played by Roberto Benigni) tries to make life bearable for his young child, despite the horrors going on around them.
"Shepherd" may not win the same awards or be quite as highly regarded when all is said and done, but it accomplishes something that is not at all an easy feat: It tells a story about the horrors of WWII, The Holocaust and the affront on Jews living in Germany and Europe at that time, by finding an angle that is accessible for a younger audiences and their parents. It teaches truths through the journey of a dog, and draws incredible parallels between the treatment of this Shepherd and how Jews were treated by Hitler's Nazi army.
For some reason, a common "dog movie" trope has the audience following a dog as it roams the country-side, changing owners over and over along the way. This construct works wonders in this movie though, and gives the over-arching journey a familiarity that most audience members will recognize.
The film begins with a mother giving birth to a litter of puppies, and a Jewish family happily receiving them. But we soon understand what's lurking outside as the Nuremberg Laws begin to take hold. While the story mostly follows one of the dogs, its life is intertwined with that of the young Jewish boy, his original owner.
Throughout the film, whether or not this Shepherd dog is "pure breed" or not continues to come into question...a powerful allegory for Jewish existence throughout the war. The dog continues to represent some sort of humanity throughout the film, even as its true owner is ripped from its arms...history only knows the number of families who had to endure such suffering.
"Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog" is what the title says it is, but it's much more than that. It's also a story of an entire people. Fittingly, it doesn't have a Hollywood ending because this is not a movie based in any sort of artificial reality.
This film is a tremendous jumping-off point for discussion about WWII and The Holocaust, a bridge that can be used to bring better understanding to the youth this film seems interested in including in the conversation, and a tool for older generations to wield in telling it.
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes.
Based on the novel by Asher Kravitz.
Starring: August Maturo, Ken Duken, Ayelet Zurer, Lois Robbins.
Written and Directed by Lynn Roth ("The Little Traitor," "Changing Habits").
"Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog" is in limited release, opening locally at The Maple Theater on
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