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TV REVIEW : NBC's 'Lena' Doesn't Do Justice to Subject

November 23, 1987|TERRY ATKINSON

As portrayed by Linda Lavin in NBC's "Lena: My 100 Children," Polish teacher Lena Kuchler-Silberman walks into a room at a Crakow refugee center after the end of World War II and stumbles upon 100 Jewish children who have neither parents nor a place to go. Having lost her own daughter during the war, she assumes care of the concentration-camp/resistance survivors, eventually leading them to Israel.

Based on Kuchler-Silberman's book about her experiences (the author died shortly before the film went into production), this story of her heroic overcoming of obstacles--feeding, housing, protecting and moving the children--has the basic makings of a memorable movie. Instead, "Lena: My 100 Children" (tonight at 9 p.m. on Channels 4, 36 and 39) is slow, downbeat, pat and confused.

Of course, it is a downbeat subject--one to be treated soberly. But "Lena" even plods when it occasionally needs to gallop. The dialogue is colorless, the situations often poorly staged. For example, when Kuchler-Silberman discovers the children, they're not making a sound--even though they're unsupervised and mostly awake. Certainly, after all they'd gone through, the kids may have been quieter than most--but this quiet?

That would be a small point if it weren't indicative of the not-quite-credible quality of too many scenes in this treadmill script. Nor do we ever get to know the heroine very well--her background and motivations come only sporadically and simplistically. And Lavin, a 1986 Tony winner best known for her title role in the TV sitcom "Alice," doesn't make this Ultimate Jewish Mother come alive for us. Exuding nobility and tears aren't enough, and we get little more than that from her.

Written by Jonathan B. Rintels Jr. and directed by Ed Sherin, "Lena: My 100 Children" is no disgrace, but it doesn't do justice to a unique tale of dedication and courage.

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