Executive producers Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers present the truth of the Holocaust so a new generation can understand why it must never be forgotten. Kirsten Dunst plays Hannah, a modern teen more concerned with trends than history. During the traditional Passover dinner, she zones out as her relatives harp about concentration camps. But then Hannah passes through a portal to the past, where she becomes her own ancestor in Poland during the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
Director Donna Deitch provides an infinite library of Holocaust detail, re-creating the period with minute dedication. Haunting images, every costume, every hair, every light and shadow conspire to maintain a sense of desolate desperation. Suspense pervades as escapes fail and mothers with newborns are taken away. Only the magical context of the story, taken from the original children´s novel by Jane Yolen, allows for a life-affirming ending. The performances may not be multifaceted but, considering the single-mindedness of the tale, the deep commitment of the actors makes every moment real and meaningful. Dunst seems able to carry a movie herself, and Brittany Murphy is mesmerizing as Hannah´s sweet cousin Rivkah.
The message is powerfully direct, but the film avoids extreme violence in deference to young audiences. The theme is enshrined in the Rivkah´s words: ´´We must stay alive to tell everyone what we´ve been through.´´ Indeed, when Hannah returns to the present, she is a new woman, with a profound love of her culture and a religious respect for the value of all human life. --Lloyd Chesley