The movie — about a wartime romance, a wrenching separation, and a tireless quest – is called I’ll Find You. But the truly interesting discovery at its heart —at least, potentially — is the reappearance of its director.
Martha Coolidge made her debut in the 1970s, when female filmmakers weren’t just criminally underrepresented – like today – but astonishingly rare. Her 1976 debut feature, Not a Pretty Picture, took on the still-taboo subject of date rape; smart films like Valley Girl, Rambling Rose and Lost in Yonkers followed.
They were all good movies, and different from each other, but somewhere along the way Coolidge got typed as a rom-com director and shortly after that the hits stopped coming. Her last theatrical feature was a Hilary Duff comedy, Material Girls, in 2006.
So it’s nice to see her back. And disappointing it’s not with a better film.
I’ll Find You was originally called Music, War and Love and first showed up at film festivals four years ago. It’s easy to see why it took time to find a real release. Although it has a lot of other seasoned veterans involved (one of its producers co-produced The Godfather Part II, and one of its screenwriters wrote The Sting) they’re not all that’s old here. Everything feels a little warmed over.
The story starts in childhood, as the bookish Robert and precocious Rachel compete for honors in their private school (think Harry and Hermione, but in `30s Poland). They soon grow up and, of course, fall in love in spite of themselves, but there are two complications. First, faith – he’s Catholic, she’s Jewish.
Second, fascism – Hitler is about to start World War II, plunge Europe into chaos, and separate the young lovers, perhaps forever.
It’s hard to imagine that not being dramatic, but somehow the filmmakers manage. Events are rushed (it feels as if, within a day of German troops crossing the border, the Holocaust is tearing Poland apart, and the patriotic resistance is already in place). Years pass in a blur, and things that should be devastating are downplayed.
Nor does the casting help. Adelaide Clemens is spirited as young Rachel, and Connie Nielsen is the best thing in the picture as the couple’s adult confidante. But Leo Suter is simply dull as Robert and, as a flamboyant opera star, the only thing worse than Stellan Skarsgard’s wigs is his atrocious lip-syncing.
True, the music, which goes deeper than the usual needle-drop classical selections, is lovely, and so are the locations (the film was shot chiefly in Poland). But the story isn’t just old-fashioned, it’s dusty. And the film’s insistence on treating the horrors of the era “tastefully” is in the worst taste of all, nearly reducing genocide to a plot device.
Casual fans may be happy Coolidge finally made another film. Real fans will be wishing she’d made any other film.