There were at least two films at the 44th Annual Chicago Film Festival that addressed the rise of Nazi power leading up to World War II. A powerful drama entitled, “Good,” to be released in late December, stars the talented actors, Viggo Mortensen and Jason Isaacs as two buddies who had fought together in World War I. One happens to be Jewish, and the other is a college professor who had written a textbook about eugenics.

Their friendship is tested as the Nazis assume power and become strongly interested in the professor’s research on mercy killing. As the professor is drawn into the ruling elite, his Jewish friend, now a highly successful psychiatrist, becomes increasingly threatened by the government’s racial policies. The moral issue of eugenics and how the professor acts to save his friend from his inevitable fate under the Nazi regime, is the central focus of this gripping drama.

From a totally different direction comes “The Wave,” which also examines the depravity of the Nazi mentality. This dynamic youth-oriented political film that takes place in the present time is about a German high school professor who is given a one-week assignment of explaining ‘autocracy’ to his class. Displeased that his preference of teaching ‘anarchy’ was overlooked, he decides to give his students a history lesson they’ll never forget.

At first, his students are bored, thinking this will just be another dry study of the old Nazi period that could never happen again in the developed world. Daily the professor draws enthusiasm from the students as he asks them to develop and participate in a ‘dictatorship’ in class. The professor is selected as the dictator, and he makes the class create a name for the group (“The Wave”), design a logo, a website, a daily school newspaper, and they are all given tasks and forced to wear uniform clothing, white shirts and blue jeans.

The excitement catches on, the students see the exercise as giving them meaning and a form of equality, goals and discipline. Before the week is over, however, the exercise gets out of control. Weapons, vandalism, fights, and racism begin to enter the picture and with the current realities of unemployment, poverty and immigration issues, the students soon discover that it’s still quite possible to recreate the conditions that gave birth to Nazism. The stunning climax to the film is memorable.

A new film from Cuba, “Personal Belongings,” addresses the persistent issue of emigration and broken families. Ana faithfully remains in Havana after her family abandons her for a better life in Miami. Ernesto sits in his car on the Malecon dreaming of leaving for a better life in Miami. They meet, fall in love, and the tug-of-war begins. Stay in Cuba or leave? Using a touching love story as a microcosm of the tragic separation of families caused by the U.S. blockade, the well-directed and acted film provides a penetrating study of life in Cuba today.

A touching and beautifully acted story, “Wendy and Lucy,” stars Michelle Williams of “Brokeback Mountain” as an understated “Everywoman.” Wendy is traveling across the country, forced to live out of her car, joined by her trusty companion, a dog she named Lucy. Her car breaks down, her dog gets lost, she runs out of money, and meets wonderful people in a small town in Washington state. With little dialogue, the simplistic plot and expressive characters say more about the human condition than most films crammed with verbosity.

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