‘Aryan Couple’ Purely Topical

Are "The Aryan Couple" the "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" of anti-Semitic Hungary?

"Yes, for sure, they are," laughs John Daly, director/producer/co-writer of the former, opening in the area on Friday, Nov. 18.

Both cute cinematic couples are breathing martyrs to murder and are married to mystery. Yet Kenny Doughty and Caroline Carver – the Aryan twosome – are no Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. While the Smiths get their joneses from serving as a hit team, the Aryan undercover couple uncover Nazi stratagems; in reality, they are Jews hitting on the ruse that serving as servants to a wealthy Jewish family while working for the Resistance is an irresistible way to help save other Jews from Hitler-occupied Hungary of 1944.

In the process, Daly – whose usual day job is as producer of such stalwarts smashes as "Platoon" and "The Last Emperor" – may have started his directorial empire with this unusual Holocaust-era film.

But a Holocaust film … John Daly … funny, he doesn't look Jewish. But look at what he's done, and then try to rationalize why Jews have the only inside advantage to filming one of civilization's major collapses of humanity.

"I hear that all the time," says the director/producer, probably more attuned to the sounds of applause from the 13 Oscars he's earned in a gold-encrusted career. "No, I'm not Jewish. People just assume that you have to be Jewish to do a film that touches on the Holocaust. But I am very much touched by humanitarian efforts."

And audiences so far have been touched by the humanity of "The Aryan Couple" and its storyline, which involves the servants working in the home of the Krauzenbergs, a lavishly wealthy Jewish family who barter their belongings for their lives in a tragic yet ultimately triumphant trade-off with Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's right-hand man.

While so many Holocaust films are a piece of solemnal seasonal settings, Daly is more inclined to offer springtime for Hitler – in a nonfarcical vein.

"Every two or three Holocaust pictures I've seen have all been very depressing – quite rightly so – but they've all been shot in a wintry background," says Daly, whose own championship season began nearly 40 years ago when he teamed with David Hemmings to form the Hemdale Film Corporation.

Not this Daly show: "I wanted to set this in springtime, to show that putting people to death in winter is not a part-time job," but the fact of the Fuhrer's full-time fury.

Manfred Weiss, the man upon whom the lead character of Josef Krauzenberg (Martin Landau) is based, was as concerned that his company colleagues – none Jewish – be saved as well as his extended family, all of whom he treasured as much as the treasures that created a trail of success in his Hungarian mansion.

In his search to depict freedom of spirit, Daly the director concedes to taking liberties with some facts, in addition to creating the concept of the undercover Aryan couple. "We referred to 3,000 employees that Manfred Weiss had, rather than the real 30,000 – that sounded like a country!"

One needs a sense of humor when homing in on such a serious topic. The somber side of what he was doing surrounded Daly daily in the on-set shoots in Poland, notably at Auschwitz, where Daly gained rare access.

Some access to the horrors of the past were tangible throughout the county. "When we went to this marketplace to look at the memorabilia on display, we saw these statues of Hitler for sale," says Daly of that unforgettable memory.

"And they [the residents] really don't want to talk about what happened during the war."

But this picture does the talking for them; and talk is not cheap even if the Nazi's value of Jewish lives was.

Hate Doesn't Fade
Never again … could it happen again?

"If you scratch too deeply," says Daly, "you'd see a great deal of anti-Semitism" in Poland.

Even the magician of Lublin would fail to pull a community out of the past. "That town was filled 80 percent with Jews; they were all wiped out."

Wipeout … isn't that a fear in making a film about the Holocaust?

That audiences have become inured to the insidiousness of the era? "It's not easy to a do a film on the Holocaust and get a mainstream audience," admits Daly, conceding that too many people may react with, "What, another Holocaust movie?"

But what happens when it's not "just" another Holocaust movie. Daly puts "Schindler's List" at the top of that list, a film which inspired him – and gave him a sense of caution as well.

One of the reasons he inserted the mythical Aryan couple into his plotline is the long line and abundance of past tales of heroism. People "like the Krauzenbergs have been dealt with on the 'Schindler's List' level," says Daly.

Yet with all the pain he pinpoints on screen with the direct deftness of threading a needle, Daly, about to make "The Disappearance" – a film focusing on the miliary junta in Argentina – knows that man's inhumanity to man will never vanish, and that "The Aryan Couple" is purely topical.

"We live in a world where torture seems to be accepted," says the director.

As for the horrors of the Holocaust, no camera will ever offer the ultimate snapshot of its true fear and focus. "I don't think we will ever be able to capture those times," says a wary Daly, "and may they never come back."



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