Rating: 3 out of 5.

More films have been made from the time of the Nazi regime than I can possibly name, and now CIFF selection The Path is the newest. This German/Spanish drama is directed with a keen eye and attention to detail, telling a personal and heart-wrenching tale of a father and son on the run from the Nazis. The Path may not reinvent the wheel, but it ripples with enough life and energy to sustain a moving (though obviously familiar) narrative.

Rolf (Julius Weckauf) and his father, Ludwig (Volker Bruch), have a very concise plan to be reunited with Rolf’s mother in New York City: take a train to the Spanish-French border, walk across Pyrenees to Spain, and take a boat in Libson to New York. If all goes according to plan, Rolf and Ludwig will meet up with the woman, who waits for them daily at the ports in New York. Naturally, being on both the Nazi’s list and the American’s most-wanted list, Rolf and Ludwig must go to extremes to ensure their safe travels.

Their escape to America comes with more than a few caveats. They cannot travel with heavy luggage lest they attract attention, and a small girl named Nuri (Gonna Cardoner) will accompany them along the path to their next destination. Rolf desires to bring along their adorable dog, Adi, named after Adolf Hitler since they get to see him “play dead.” However, it seems obvious that Adi’s presence will be altogether too dangerous. The suspicions are proven right when Rolf tries to smuggle Adi in his bag, and causes a ruckus during their travels. Ludwig is forced to sacrifice himself to Nazi capture in order to shield Rolf and Nuri waiting in a nearby bush.

After Ludwig is taken away by the Nazis, The Path loses some of its luster. It ends up needing to rely on the chemistry between Rolf and Nuri, which is thankfully quite good. The friendship between the two children recalls adorable family-friendly features, while maintaining a sinister edge thanks to the ever-lurking presence of the Nazis. The duo must work together if they hope to have any chance of recovering Ludwig from the dastardly clutches of the Nazis. 

As far as World War II-based dramas, The Path is about as predictable as they come, and offers little in the way of meaningful steps forward for the genre. The strong father/son bond, and the primary camaraderie between Nuri and Rolf, end up as the shining stars of The Path. It carries strong messages about being on the run, and formulating a path of one’s own choosing, which feels exceedingly apt to conclude. For the less demanding viewer, The Path could emerge as a new favorite.

The Path screened at the 2022 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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