The French Film "Désobéir (Aristides de Sousa Mendes)" is listed by IMDb with the English title "Aristides de Sousa Mendes: A Rebel (2008) (TV)." We saw the movie with a different English title, "Disobedience:The Sousa Mendes Story (2012)." It's clearly the same movie. If you want to see it--which I hope you will--you may have to seek it out under its various names until you find it. The director is Joël Santoni.
Bernard Le Coq plays Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese aristocrat who is the Portuguese Counsel General in Bordeaux. After the Germans defeated the French in World War II, it was just a matter of time before Jews, Communists, and anti-Nazi's would be rounded up and killed. These people had just one hope--a visa from a neutral nation that would allow them to emigrate before they were slaughtered.
Sousa Mendes has a safe and easy job, a wonderful wife and family, and a beautiful French mistress. His life could have continued unchanged if he had merely followed orders. The orders were contained in a document called Circular 14, issued by the Antonio Salazar, the Fascist Portuguese Prime Minister. The document specifically ordered Portuguese diplomats to deny visas to all refugees trying to escape via Portugal.
It's a historical fact that Sousa Mendes defied Circular 14, and issued 30,000(!) visas to anyone who requested a visa. (Ten thousand of the visas were issued to Jews.) Sousa Mendes's act has been called "the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust."
The film tells us that, like Oskar Schindler, Sousa Mendes did not set out to be a hero. He set out to do what he believed was right. Other diplomats were content--or happy-- to follow orders. He instead decided to follow his conscience.
The movie is beautifully directed and acted. The terror of the refugees--camped outside the consulate--is almost palpable. We can feel the excitement that Sousa Mendes feels when he makes his decision and sets to work. This is an immensely moving motion picture. The best part is that the basic facts are true! It's a wonderful and important movie, and shouldn't be missed.
We saw this film at Rochester's Dryden Theatre as part of the 2013 Rochester Jewish Film Festival. Rochester is a medium-sized city. However, the RJFF are so well-selected, and the festival is so well-organized, that it could compare favorably to Jewish Film festivals in much larger cities. The next RJFF will be held July 20th - 28th, 2014. If you live in western New York, and if you love great movies, you should plan on being there. Even if you live further away, It's worth a special trip!
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