Love Gets a Room | St. Louis Jewish Film Festival 2024

Mark Ryder, Clara Rugaard, and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in Love Gets a Room.

The year is 1942, and the entire Jewish population of Warsaw has been confined to the ghetto by the Nazi occupying army. Trying to spread joy where they can, a small Jewish theater troupe holds underground plays in a shuttered theater, led by playwright Edmund (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and his girlfriend Stefcia (Clara Ruggard). One night, just as the curtain rises, fellow actor—and Stefcia’s ex-boyfriend—Patryk (Mark Ryder) arrives late, and pulls Stefcia aside: he’s bribed a guard, and he has a way out of the ghetto, but they have to leave that night, immediately after the play is complete. Edmund insists that she leave, as he would rather lose Stefcia to Patryk if it means she lives through the War, but Stefcia is adamant that she doesn’t want to go without Edmund, and Patryk isn’t giving her that option. But before that can be decided, with a packed house including the Jewish police and other possible Nazi informants, the show must go on.

From there, we watch Stefcia’s conundrum play out in real time, bouncing between the harried, emotionally fraught discussions backstage and the shenanigans happening onstage. And there are shenanigans, because of course the play is a comedy—specifically a musical romantic comedy, wherein Stefcia  and Patryk (the characters are named the same as the actors) share a small apartment with fellow newlyweds Edmund and Ada (Valentina Belle) only for Stefcia and Edmund to fall madly in love with each other.

It’s here, in the collisions between the play-within-a-movie and the backstage drama, that Love Gets a Room elevates itself from merely a World War II drama into something else entirely different, something far more ambitious and thrilling to watch. Every dramatic conversation is held in stolen moments during intermissions and between scenes, with Stefcia, Edmund, and Patryk trying to sort their complicated emotions out with only a snippet of conversation before they’re bounding back onto the stage, their anxiety pasted over with show business smiles. The play itself isn’t merely a distraction, either, finding ways to amplify the emotions in the viewer with the parallels and juxtapositions between the onstage comedy and behind-the-scenes drama. That constant march from “we have to get back out for the next scene” to “we’re now one more scene closer to having to make a decision” ratchets up the tension to unbelievable levels even as the characters trot around stage singing silly songs and engaging in pratfalls and broad jokes. And that’s all before the Germans show up…

Not only does Love Gets a Room masterfully deploy tension to keep the audience addicted and eager to find where it will go next, it also looks great doing it. Director/co-writer Rodrigo Cortés (he was also behind the 2010 “Ryan Reynolds is buried alive” movie Buried) uses many lengthy, unbroken takes, the camera swirling around his actors on the stage or following them as they speed through the backstage hallways of the theater. If you can pull yourself away from the onscreen drama, it’s just as easy to lose yourself in trying to figure out how some of these shots were pulled off. Performance-wise, Ruggard’s role as Stefcia is a star-making turn, not only accessing every possible emotion over the course of the film but also the way Stefcia stifles her feelings for the sake of performance while you can feel her real emotions just below the surface. Walsh-Peelo and Ryder’s characters don’t get as wide of an interior life as Stefcia, but they serve well in their role to amplify her internal drama. And the original songs by Victor Reyes (with some lyrics by Cortés) work wonders at serving three purposes—as songs within the context of the play, as ways to amplify the characters’ emotions, and as pure songs, full stop. The songs utilize a limited orchestra (whom we see in the film) with heavy use of violin and clarinet to craft songs that sound believably of their 1940s vintage and Warsaw origin. In the process of writing this review, I was very thankful to discover the soundtrack is available on streaming services to enjoy again and again. I think I’ll go do that right now… | Jason Green

Love Gets a Room screens as part of the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival on Tuesday, April 16 at 7:00pm at B&B Theatres’ West Olive 10 in Creve Coeur (12657 Olive Blvd.). To purchase tickets or to check out the full festival lineup, visit

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