While it may boast some very individual Central European quirks, there's still a pervading air of deja vu about cinema's latest attempt to wring some humour out of the Holocaust. Mihaileanu's contribution to this strangest of genres plays like Life Is Beautiful meets Fiddler On The Roof, and while it's an agreeable enough movie, it's unlikely to reach the giddy heights of its Oscar-conquering Italian predecessor.
Here, the setting is a shtetl (Jewish ghetto) somewhere in Central Europe in 1941. Having learned from village 'idiot' Shlomo (Abelanski) that the Nazis are on their way, the townsfolk plot their own elaborate escape, which involves building their own fake deportation train and heading for the safety of the Russian border. But divisions among them threaten to throw a spanner into the flawlessly plotted works.
This is an offbeat and earnest piece of work, which focuses itself on telling its ripping yarn in a comic and poignant manner rather than drenching it in sentimentality. Mihaileanu tells the fable with a fantastical, vaguely surreal feel, that makes clever use of some standard Jewish tunes and draws neat performances from Abelanski's tragi-comic Shlomo, and De La Fontaine as the village crumpet who creates the movie's most endearing running gag by endlessly falling for the wrong man.
Yet for all its plus points, the film isn't quite strong enough to distinguish itself from the recent rash of similarly-themed fare, and as such its appeal is unlikely to reach far beyond the arthouse. It's a likeable oddity, certainly, but in treading such well-heeled turf it also becomes an unremarkable one.