Shelly Skandrani

New York Daily News- on The Devil’s Arithmetic

February 1, 2009 –

newspaper articles -New York Daily News


By ERIC MINK Daily News TV Critic

Friday, March 26th 1999, 2:10AM
THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC. Sunday, 8 p.m., Showtime.

Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers are among the executive producers of “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” and both Rogers and Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher play small parts in the made-for-TV movie that premieres Sunday night at 8 on Showtime.

But it is the quiet, honest performances of young actors from the United States, Canada and Europe Brittany Murphy, Shelly Skandrani and, especially, Kirsten Dunst that carry this picture and infuse it with power.
Adapted from the 1988 adolescent novel by Jane Yolen, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” is both a fantasy and a hard-edged depiction of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl, Hannah, played by Dunst.
The film begins, however, in the present. Hannah, a typically self-absorbed American 16-year-old, grudgingly attends a traditional family Passover Seder at the home of her Aunt Ava (Fletcher). Paying little attention to the content or symbolism of the prayers, stories and special food at the meal and drinking more than her share of dinner wine Hannah is designated to open a door as part of the service, but when she does, she steps through a wrinkle in time and space.
Confused, she finds herself in a small Polish village in 1941, just as the Nazis are rolling in and launching their genocidal campaign against the Jews of Europe. Hannah quickly bonds with a protective cousin, Rivkah (Murphy), at whose side she remains through a brutal confinement at a concentration camp.
Screenwriter Robert J. Avrech, director Donna Deitch and the production team have captured Yolen’s dark fable, complete with strange echoes of “The Wizard of Oz.” In fact, the film’s most poignant moment may well be Hannah’s telling the story of Dorothy and Oz to the young people in her barracks.
“The Devil’s Arithmetic,” which hopes to capture the attention of teens, shuns the preachiness that surely would turn off that audience. Even so, its moral perspective is clear.