‘I’ll Find You’ is a Rare Film Find: A Classic Epic Rarely Made Anymore (Movie Review)
I’ll Find You
Director: Martha Coolidge
Writers: David S. Ward, Bozenna Intrator based on a story by Zbigniew John Raczynskiy)
Style: Romance, Historic Drama
Time: 116 minutes
Review by Mike Szymanski
Big historic war romances don’t exist anymore. The days of big set movies with an epic romance punctuated with an overwhelmingly inspirational music that is meant to be viewed on the big screen seem like they are from a lost movie era. They sound schmaltzy, and maybe they were, but they created classics.
I remember them, and they were wonderful.
This Martha Coolidge masterpiece is a step back to that era of cinema reminiscent of Doctor Zhivago, Schindler’s List, and The Way We Were. I am a person who generally would turn away from historical pieces set around World War II, with romance, Holocaust and violins involved, but this is a movie that sucked me in and even after a second viewing had me feel the range of emotions from laughter to crying, heartbreak and warm fuzzies. It’s rare to be able to recommend a movie like this, and I haven’t for a long time.
One of my all-time favorite movies is Casablanca, and in a way, this is a more in-depth version of that: the story of two lovers caught in a world that doesn’t give a hill of beans about them, and yet they find love, and re-find each other.
(I will tell you a secret: more than two years ago, I saw a secret version of this movie without credits and unfinished sound, because I have a friend involved in the project. It was much longer and more in-depth and I loved it then, thinking that it was bound to be an Oscar contender for many categories. I still think it will be and is, but it is even better with this shortened and more truncated version.)
So why did it take so long to get released? There are plenty of rumors and even a lawsuit involving director Martha Coolidge and a producer of the movie. The producer at one point was keeping Coolidge out of the editing room even though her contract says she has final cut.
Anyway, without getting into all the fuss, the movie was delayed and almost scuttled and that was before the pandemic hit, which delayed its release even more.
Filmed on location in Poland in 2015, the film faced delays and overruns. Then, Coolidge fell off a horse in a riding accident and was seriously injured and in the hospital about five weeks.
The movie, originally titled: “Music. War. Love.” was delayed again, and it wasn’t clear if it was ever going to be released, despite audience test screenings that registered positive feedback.
The movie is in two distinct parts. It begins in their earlier years in a music conservatory in Poland with Catholic boy Robert Pulaski (played by Sebastian Croft) and Jewish girl Rachel Rubin (Ursula Parker) as vying violinists. A group of the A-list student musicians practice in a secret attic room of the academy that includes Rachel and her sister Sophie as well as Robert and a few other friends.
Robert gets so frustrated that his female rival is so excellent at the violin that he wants to give it up. But then, while singing Christmas carols, his music teacher Lena (wonderfully enacted by Connie Nielsen) recognizes his talent there.
Lena introduces the boy Robert to her famous opera singing brother, Benno Moser (played naturally over the top by a delightfully confident Stellan Skarsgard). Benno tells Robert that if he’s still singing when his voice changes to contact him where he lives in Germany.
It’s all a nice set-up for the next half of the film, when Robert and Rachel share a sloppy kiss and Robert disappears for two years working on his singing technique at a faraway school.
The younger cast then suddenly gets older and it’s practically a new movie, and takes a more foreboding tone.
Rachel is now played by Adelaide Clemens who was in The Great Gatsby and Robert is now played by Leo Suter who we know from Vikings: Valhalla. Now the world is much darker in 1939 and it’s a bit more dangerous for Rachel to go to violin competitions because of the encroaching Nazi threat.
This story is a combination of a series of Polish love stories that took place at the beginnings of the war and they blended this story between a Catholic singer and a Jewish violin player.
You may know Danish actress Connie Nielsen from the Oscar-winning film Gladiator and who also appeared as Hippolyta in the DC Universe in Wonder Woman and Justice League movies. You’ve seen her in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, as well as Devil’s Advocate, The Hunted, and many more.
Director Martha Coolidge has a very diverse career by directing films with romance, action and humor such as Real Genius, The Prince and Me, Valley Girl and Beverly Hills Cop 3. She also directed Material Girls, Rambling Rose and the Emmy-winning Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.
Coolidge hasn’t directed for more than a decade, and this is a shining new star to add to her resume.
In the “second part” of the movie, Robert returns to find that Rachel is engaged to his friend David. But, very quickly, David realizes that Rachel is more married to her violin and music than she is about being a housewife who runs off to Switzerland. That’s something that Robert understands.
Robert and Rachel have a funny, yet very poignant conversation about virginity and what it means. It’s a clever piece of scriptwriting and truly shows their characters completely unmasked.
Skarsgard has a hysterical moment with the older Robert when they sing about Hitler’s one testicle in a goofy song. This master actor’s character is bombastic and relentless and he offers welcoming levity in an otherwise grave moment of the film.
Another character actor is Stephen Dorff (from a series of great indie films like Power of One, SFW, Cecil B. Demented, Somewhere and the vampire nemesis in Blade). Dorff is deserving of an award for his turn as a Nazi general who plays his motivations close to the vest.
The music and the opera scenes are remarkable moments, staged beautifully in settings that seem time-warped to the era. The performances by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra are sometimes familiar, but always fantastic.
And, there are painful moments. Rachel is known as one of the violinists who played as her fellow country folk were led to the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. It gets more and more difficult for her to be able to pick up her instrument again.
She also finds it tough to believe the last words she hears from Robert when taken away by the Germans as he shouts, “I’ll find you.”
The film won awards at festivals that include Taormina in Italy, three Polish festivals, and Jewish film festivals in San Francisco and Boca Raton, Florida.
Also, it’s a fun cameo, but look for director Coolidge playing a florist in New York toward the end of the movie.
You won’t regret spending the time to watch this picturesque and heartwarming film.
“I’ll Find You” will hit theaters and Video On Demand.