Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 12, No. 3, April 6th, 1949.
Then the film takes up the story of a nine-year-old Czech boy, Karel Malik. Karel's father and sister died in a concentration camp. His mother is alive and has crossed every zone in Germany searching for him.
Ich weis nicht
But the boy knows nothing of this. A time in Auschwitz concentration camp and forced journeys through many countries has blotted out all memory. He does not remember his family, his nationality, or even his name. "Ich weis nicht" is the only reply he can give to Unrra officials' question.
On his way with a group of children to a special camp he escapes, fearing that he is still in the hands of the "conquerors" who tattooed an identification number on his arm. He lives in the rubble of the city until one day, lice-ridden and starving, he comes out to take food offered by a young American AMG officer.
Much as one would pick up a stray puppy, the American, Steve, takes him home, feeds and clothes him, and begins to teach him English while trying to trace his parents. He learns that they are almost certainly dead and plans to take Karel back to America.
At first Karel is quite happy in this new life because at last he has found kindness. But he begins to notice that the life of the people around is really different from his. He begins to question his position in the house. He is unhappy and envious when he sees a mother (American) comforting her son, who has burnt himself. Odd memories begin to return and Karel, dimly remembering his mother, runs away to look for her. His mother, believing him to have been drowned after running away, stays on to tend a group of Jewish children, preparing to leave for Palestine, at the children's camp not far away. Karel does not find her where he expected to find her and is finally told she is dead.
Steve is returning to America and arranges for the boy to go back to the camp to await permission to leave Europe, just as the boy's mother, steadfastly clinging to the hope that he may be alive, leaves.
But finally they are reunited, and it is the completely unexpected sound of his mother's voice calling his name that bridges the years of terror in a few moments, and makes his life whole again. The search is over.
"The Search" is an emotional film. Dealing with a major modem tragedy it cannot help but be emotional. And it is in only one scene the the emotion is not completely convincing and deeply moving. That is a remarkable record.
The acting of the principals is uniformly fine: Montgomery Clift as Steve, Aline McMahon as an Unrra official, and the Czech actress Jarmila Novotna as Karel's mother.
Ivan Jandl also a Czech, plays the part of Karel with a naturalness that makes one believe that he is acting out his own life, which is, of course, as it should be. He appears as the central character in more than half of the film and gives a thoroughly sustained and intelligent performance. This is about the best job of acting I have seen by a child, Anthony Wager and John Howard Davies notwithstanding.
The unnamed city has also a large part in the film. The great piles of rubble and shattered buildings, so frighteningly real to the boy, are unreal viewed from our suburban 'out post'. Here and there people live in cellars or in huts built from bricks recovered from the wreckage. The streets are stark, grey, and about the only people in them are housewives, or ex-Wehrmacht men trudging wearily nowhere.
Hollywood has touched the fringes of this problem before. Inevitably the characters set out into a sunset for the "New World." Karel and his mother don't want that. Europe is their home and they don't seek to escape from it.
Through Karel the film speaks against nationalism. It advocates pacifism as the only answer to another war.