Look to the Sky (1993)



Director:     Jean-Hugues Anglade.

Cast:      Jean-Hugues Anglade (the father), Juliet Aubrey (the mother), Luke Petterson (Jona young), Jenner Del Vecchio (Jona older), Francesca De Sapio

Jonah, an innocent young Jewish Child from Amsterdam, tries to survive life in a concentration camp


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.


Amsterdam 1942.  Jonah is a small boy who lives in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.  One day, while his father was away, the German occupying forces come to tell Jonah and his mother that they have to go away.  Mother leaves a note for father.  She thinks that there must be some mistake because the family has visas for Palestine.  And lucky for her, when she shows the visas, they let her go.  They go back home to a husband/father very happy to see them again. 

A bigger boy comes over to Jonah playing outside and kicks down and smashes what he is building.  He then breaks his little shovel and calls him a "filthy Jew".  Jonah is quite confused as to why this happened.  They meet more prejudice and discrimination at their local grocery store where the owner tells mother that he cannot sell to Jews.  Mom and Jonah leave, but then mom goes back in the store and gets her groceries and pays for them regardless of what the owner says. 

At home mom has to sew on the yellow Star of David on Jonah's clothes.  She tells Jonah that father cannot work anymore.  Latter a man does give father a job typing in his large apartment.  Jonah goes to work with him and plays while dad types.  One day dad types the word "J O N A H" on a piece of paper for Jonah. 

The Germans come again and all three members of the family are forced to leave with them.  They go through some very long lines.  They have their luggage inspected and have to surrender silver and gold items, as well as other things of wealth.  They are then put on a truck and taken to a village outside of Amsterdam.  There Jonah attends an informal school.  He is confused because the children sing songs in Hebrew and he does not know the language. But then one day German soldier arrive and take the teacher away.  The Germans cut off the long beards of some of the Jewish inmates.  Mother and Jonah attend a clandestine meeting where the women sing Jewish songs.  They are warned by their lookout that they are singing too loudly.  The Germans will hear them. 

The family hears a bomb explosion.  Then the air raid siren is heard.  They have to go into an air raid shelter.  The family is still hoping that they might be allowed to go to Palestine.  They are placed on trucks again.  Dad jumps out to get something he left behind.  His wife tells him not to go, but he goes anyway.  Mom is very frightened that father will not make it back in time and that they will be separated.  He has to run as hard as he can to catch up with the moving truck, but he does get back on.  He shows his wife what he went back for:  a small box of cigars.  He tells her that you never know when a box of cigars might come in handy.  They tell Jonah that they are on their way to Palestine.

Three years later.  In the concentration camp, mother and son have not seen father for a long time.  Mom is very worried that her son is too thin and might be sent away.  (Which means to the gas chambers.)  Jonah is put to work with a lot of other kids cutting off the leather from the soles of the shoes of the Jewish men.  (The men had died or were gassed.)  Jonah drops his knife and is punished by the woman guard who smacks his forearms with the big ropes of a whip.  To encourage her son, mom keeps telling him to keep looking up in the sky and never allow yourself to hate.  Just look at the sky. 

Mom has Jonah sneak in with the older children as they are put to work in the kitchen.  The cook there is very decent and lets the children eat the food still left in the bottom of the big cooking vats.  Mom is hoping that this will put some weight on Jonah.  New people are arriving all the time. Among these is a teenager named Simona who bonds with the family.  The topic of discussion at the moment is that the Germans are eliminating the elderly and children. 

Mom is able to bribe a man working in the infirmary to set up a meeting with her and Jonah with father.  They wait in a room and the man brings in father.  The poor fellow is not looking well at all.  But they are all happy that they are together again.  Mom gives dad a cigar that she saved and he lights it and takes a few puffs. The grown-ups want to have some privacy so they can have sex.  So they put Jonah just outside the room.  But the medical worker soon knocks on the door and tells them that they cannot risk having a Jewish child in the halls.  He might be seen.  So they let Jonah back in.  They make him face the wall, but Jonah doesn't understand why he should face the wall and he starts to look around.  This makes it rough on dad who says he can't perform with his son watching.  Mom goes over to him and firmly tells him that he must face the wall.  This time he obeys and the couple complete the act standing face to face leaning against the wall with their clothes on. 

Jonah takes a dare from the older children to make funny faces at a German guard with a guard dog.  When mother learns about this Jonah gets smacked in the face and told the seriousness of what might have happened to him if the guard had seen him make faces at him.  The mothers of the older children start slapping their children for putting Jonah's life in danger and perhaps their own lives. 

Jonah learns that his father is very sick.  They are able to see him, but soon father dies. 

Jonah now runs with the bigger kids.  They, however, have still not learned their lesson.  As an initiation ceremony, he gets locked in the morgue with a lot of dead bodies.  Jonah walks through the area and then comes back but realizes the kids have locked him in.  He starts screaming to let him out, but they just laugh.  Finally he decides to break a window and get out.  As he gets on the counter, the covering over one of the corpses slips down and reveals the face of the dead man.  It's the cook. 

Planes drop bombs on the camp.  Mom and Jonah are on a train being transferred to another camp.  Jonah awakes to his mother telling him that he has been asleep for about a week.  Planes are heard overhead.  They drop bombs on the train.  The soldier's train is hit.  To get to safety the soldiers leave the cattle cars behind and just take the soldier cars.  Three soldiers are left to guard the cattle cars. 

The German guards cannot reach headquarters with their radio.  So two of the guards just take off.  Only one remains.  The people in the cars are begging for water.  He finally lets two children out of the cars to get some water.  The guard is brandishing his weapon at the children and screaming at them when Russian soldiers come up behind him and disarm him.  They then release the people from the cattle cars. 

Jonah the narrator says Simona, the teen-age girl who bonded with them at camp, looked pretty now with her new clothes.  He adds:  "We were free."  But his mother is in the hospital.  Simona and Jonah go to the infirmary to check on mom.  The nurses tell them that their mom refuses to take her medicine.  And when the children try to give her a small container of potatoes, she refuses them.  So they give the potatoes to another woman patient.  This makes the woman very happy and this happiness makes mom mad.  She tells the children in a loud voice:  "Give them to me.  They are mine."  So the children take back the potatoes from the woman and give them to mom.  They try to give her a glass of water but she refuses saying that the water is poisoned:  "You just want me to die.  . . . Everybody dies here."  Jonah is very sad to see his mother like this.  It seems she has had a mental breakdown.  Mom is given a sedative shot and she calms down enough to tell Simona to look after Jonah for her.   She adds to Jonah:  "Keep looking up at the sky."

One day Jonah sees the woman they gave the potatoes to and then had to take them back from her.  He talks about his mother to her and she realizes that Jonah does not know that his mother died in the hospital.  She tells him the bad news, but at first he refuses to believe her and even throws dirt on her.  He asks Simona if mother is dead and she says yes.  Jonah becomes very angry and blames Simona.  He then cries:  "I want my mommy!"

Amsterdam 1945.  Simona gives Jonah a present.  Later she leaves Jonah to go to another country.  Jonah is taken in by the very family that had given his father a typing job.  They are very nice people, but at first Jonah just refuses to obey them.  He even turns his nose up at a bike, something he has wanted for a long time.  He then deliberately tips over his bowl of milk and cookies to soil the carpet.  Finally the wife tells him that they will not talk to him at all until he cleans up the mess.  He sulks for a while, but finally when alone he walks around the house with his bike.  He imagines seeing his father sitting and typing.  He goes over to the typewriter and types his name in big letters: J O N A H. 

Jonah gets soup and water and a bowl and starts cleaning up the mess he made.  And he eats his new bowl of milk and cookies.  His new parents are very happy to see him do what they told him to do.  Now things are going to be alright. 

Jonah grew up to be a scientist. 


Good movie.  I've now seen a lot of movies on the Holocaust.  This one takes a different approach.  It looks at the Holocaust from the viewpoint of a small boy, Jonah.  There is a lot that he does not understand about what is happening to him and his family, but he slowly learns about the seriousness of the situation.  (His parents kept telling him they were on their way to Palestine.)  But he still does childish things that could get him killed by the German guards at the concentration camp.  The movie also highlights some different dangerous situations faced by the children that I had not seen in the other movies. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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