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‘IRENA’S VOW’ Movie Review: A Poignant and Timely Lesson in Today’s Fractured World

In today’s fast-paced and individualistic society, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to problems that don’t seem to affect us directly. In these times of turmoil and injustice, now more than ever, we need to create a sense of interconnectedness because indifference is not neutral – it allows oppression to persist unchecked. For this very reason, Louise Archambault‘s latest film Irena’s Vow is compulsory viewing when it releases next week as it’s a harsh and vital reminder of this truth.

The film depicts the true story of Irena Gut Opdyke (Sophie Nélisse – “Yellowjackets”), a young Polish woman who risked her life to save others in one of humanity’s darkest hours. At just 19 years old, Opdyke secured a position as housekeeper for a high-ranking Nazi officer. Unable to ignore the escalating Nazi atrocities, she chose to secretly shelter a group of Jews destined for extermination in the basement of her workplace. For more than two years, Opdyke lived in constant peril, concealing the whereabouts of the Jewish refugees she sheltered right under the noses of the oppressors seeking to destroy them. With keen ingenuity and nerves of steel, she kept her secret safe through endless close calls and run-ins with the Nazis she served, somehow managing to avoid exposure while orchestrating the survival and escape of the people relying on her.

Sophie delivers a nuanced, sublime performance as Irena, the self-sacrificing protagonist who risks everything to shelter Jews from the surrounding death and misery, despite her position in a Nazi commander’s household. She expertly navigates Irena’s complicated relationship with Commander Rugemer (Dougray Scott), concealing her righteous efforts through an impenetrable facade while carrying out her duties. When Rugemer ultimately discovers Irena’s secret but resorts to blackmail to protect himself from the Nazis, both Nélisse and Scott skilfully elicit sympathy not only for Irena’s plight, but also for Rugemer’s tortured self-loathing at his own moral downfall – a nuanced portrayal rarely seen in films of this genre.

I can’t not mention Andrzej Seweryn who gives a memorable and at times even humorous performance as Schultz, the butler who serves as of confidant of sorts to Irena. Though well-meaning, Schultz’s repeated mantra of “I don’t want to know anything” contrasts with his clear concern for Irena’s welfare. He advises Irena to be self-interested – to “look down at your feet and take one step at a time” – but her ingrained selflessness prevails, no matter how many times Schultz warns that it may well lead to her demise.

Whilst much of the film takes place indoors and is primarily focused on serving up an intimate character driven story, Irena’s constant efforts to keep her secret hidden ensure that this story keeps viewers fascinated and fearful of what baneful consequences could occur if she were to get found out. To exacerbate this, the film includes two or three horrific moments that serve as a harsh reminder of the inhuman atrocities occurring just outside their front door. At the same time, these scenes reveal the transformational events that drove Irena’s altruism and her mission to help as many people as possible.

Irena’s Vow offers a timeless and poignant message in today’s fractured world. This inspiring true story of unrelenting commitment to protecting human life despite overwhelming risks is exactly the kind of thing we all need right now to encourage people to extend a hand to others, regardless of their religion, culture or race. By spotlighting the extraordinary courage and compassion of an unsung heroine who refused to stand by silently and instead made it her mission to save as many lives as possible, the film pays moving tribute to how even just one resolute individual can make a huge difference and serves as a powerful reminder that we all have a role to play in spreading empathy and standing up in the face of oppression.


Irena’s Vow releases in theaters this April 15 and 16

Where to watch IRENA'S VOW

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