Skip navigation

Category Archives: Film

 

A haunting film about Elie Wiesel’s hometown and roots, produced in 1964. I share this video just to promote awareness of the Holocaust and a deeper knowledge of one of its most important witnesses, recently disappeared. If I am infringing any copyright laws, I will remove it immediately.

jerrylewiscur

Source: Sara Ivry, Tablet, January 6, 2016

There’s a sort of louche, menacing quality about Jerry Lewis—I’ve always thought so, anyway. Maybe it’s the tan or the bada-bing pinkie ring, or the warmth he seemed unwilling to summon even while hosting a telethon for muscular dystrophy. I found Lewis’ nasal parodic voice irksome and repellent. And his appeal—here in the U.S., or in France—has always perplexed me. I could never stand The Nutty Professor; the only film of his I’ve ever enjoyed is The King of Comedy and that’s partly because he plays a balls-out asshole, or perhaps he’s not “playing at all,” which is part of what makes that film so riveting.

Why speak of Jerry Lewis now, you ask? Because the BBC has just released a short documentary about Lewis’ never-seen 1970 Holocaust film The Day the Clown Cried. Lewis flew to Sweden to shoot the feature, and when he was finished he took the reels with him back to the United States but never released the film. When asked about it, Lewis has asserted he would never screen it because it’s “bad, bad, bad.”

The BBC mini-documentary, The Story of the Day the Clown Cried, features stills from the film and show Lewis with a red nose and painted clown make-up in front of would-be barracks where he is directing would-be Nazis played by Swedish actors. Various Swedes are interviewed about the shoot and production. We learn that Lewis worked on this project for a decade before filming commenced. We find out that some actors never got paid. We’re told that Lewis gave reels of all his films, includingThe Day the Clown Died, to the Library of Congress with the caveat the institution is forbidden to screen the film until 2025 at the earliest.

And we’re treated to a single tidbit of fascinating trivia: While in Sweden, Lewis never laundered his drawers or socks—he simply threw them away after a single wear. One—by which I mean, me—wonders if that is a lifelong habit and where that kind of behavior came from.

Against the improbable background music of Massive Attack, the documentary’s host, British comedian David Schneider (himself the son of a Holocaust survivor) ruminates on the question of whether one can make comedy out of such tragedy, and if that’s what Lewis was trying to do. There’s no way to know, really, if the film was supposed to be comedy, or have comedic elements, so it’s a bit of goose-chase speculation.

Nevertheless, the query reminded me of a gutting joke the British writer Howard Jacobson included in his fantastic novel Kalooki Nights, which I read years ago: What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? A pizza doesn’t scream when you stick it in the oven. That’s the kind of joke (you) never forget. Which begs Schneider’s question: Is it appropriate to make entertainment out of this genocide? Beyond appropriate, is it possible? Fans of The Producers might say yes. That Lewis has refused to make the film public suggests a different answer.

auschwitz-birkenau-1449768958

Source: Justyna Pawlak, Forward, December 12, 2015

WARSAW — Poland’s new conservative rulers think their country faces an image problem abroad and they want Hollywood to produce a Polish equivalent of “Braveheart” or “Pearl Harbor” to promote their country’s positive place in history.

They also are looking to alter the narrative when it comes to Poland, where most of the Nazi death camps were located.

The right-wingers believe a major movie would make Poland feel proud of its achievements and win it more respect on the world stage at a time when many citizens are falling behind financially.

Critics say the government wants to exploit growing feelings of nationalism in order to boost its popularity and divert public attention from economic problems.

But, by putting an emphasis on patriotism, the government also risks stirring up more xenophobia at a time when Europe is grappling with a massive influx of refugees from the Middle East.

“There is no internationally recognized film about Polish history. I regret this,” Culture Minister Piotr Glinski told Reuters in an interview.

“Why is this important? Every community needs something that brings it together … in order to build its strength and to win, or rather, not to lose, on the world stage. Economically and politically,” he said.

Glinski’s eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS) won an election in October promising greater economic equality and a nationalist response to growing influence from Brussels.

PiS has since announced plans for a major public relations campaign at home and abroad, including the possible film venture, as well as a drive to make schools, theaters and public television promote more patriotic themes.

Glinski, who is the most senior member of the cabinet after the prime minister, said the film could for example tell the story of the 1683 battle of Vienna or the 1944 battle of Monte Cassino, the latter one of the toughest in World War Two.

In Vienna, Poles helped defeat the Turks in what marked the end of the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into Europe.

“Almost every wartime story of a Polish soldier is a ready-made script,” Glinski said. The film would “tell the world who has protected our civilisation.”

Asked if there were any movies that could serve as a model for the government’s plans, he said: “Yes, there are many, particularly American ones: Saving Private Ryan or Pearl Harbor. The well-known patriotic production about the heroic history of the Scots – Braveheart – can also be used as an example.”

Glinski said the goal was a “Hollywood-level” film and the government had been in touch with potential producers, although he did not say who they were.

COMPLICATED PAST

Another subject Glinski said should be addressed was Poland’s relations with its Jewish community during the Nazi Holocaust, potentially reopening a painful debate that has dominated the Polish media in recent years.

A series of books and films have revealed that Poles were not only the victims of the Nazis but, sometimes, also the perpetrators of crimes against the Jews.

This has raised questions of collective guilt and reconciliation in a nation taught to believe under communism that, with a few exceptions, it had conducted itself honorably during a war that killed a fifth of the population.

It has also contradicted the view of many Poles that their centuries-old cohabitation with Jews was one of the most harmonious in Europe. Of the six million Jews who died during the Holocaust, about half had been living in Poland.

“Poland’s image abroad suffers because, sometimes, Poland is said to be co-responsible for the Holocaust,” Glinski said. “It is disturbing that Poland is ascribed fault here.”

Last year, the Polish drama “Ida,” a story of a Polish-Jewish orphan searching for her identity and family history, won the Oscar for best foreign language film but attracted heavy criticism from Polish nationalist groups.

Its director says the film – in which the protagonist is told by her parents’ Polish neighbor that he killed them during the war – is a tale of human experience not history.

But some in Poland said it misrepresented reality.

Glinski said Poland could make a film about a Polish family that had hidden Jews from the Nazis during the war, in an effort to contradict revelations that some Poles had actively helped the Nazis in their genocidal campaign.

Critics say reopening the issue would damage Poland’s efforts to come to terms with its complicated past.

“Every nation is guilty of something,” said Konstanty Gebert, an expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, in Warsaw.

“But that image improves when you discuss it and admit to it. This can earn you respect.”—Reuters

Read more: http://forward.com/culture/326635/polish-conservative-image-holocaust/#ixzz3uNQFdQa8

hitler

Source: The Guardian, October 27, 2015

Look Who’s Back, a comedy about the return of Hitler, has become an unlikely hit in Germany, heading to the top of the box office chart in its third week of release.

The Borat-style film, based on the bestselling novel by Timur Vermes, puts Adolf Hitler back into German society and utilises the reactions of real people for humour. Over the weekend, it knocked Pixar’s hit adventure Inside Out off the top spot and became the country’s No 1 release. It has already made around £8.5m.

“Germans should be able to laugh at Hitler, rather than viewing him as a monster, because that relieves him of responsibility for his deeds and diverts attention from his guilt for the Holocaust,” director David Wnendt told the Guardian. “But it should be the type of laugh that catches in your throat and you’re almost ashamed when you realise what you’re doing.”

The plot imagines that Hitler has woken up in modern day Berlin, with no memory of any event post-1945 and ends up getting his own TV show. The book was a huge hit in Germany, selling 14m copies.

The film also highlights the increasing influence of the far right in Europe. “We’re highlighting that the danger of a resurgence is very much alive,” said Wnendt.

Look Who’s Back is the second homegrown hit this year for Germany’s Constantin Film, which also released Suck Me Shakespeer 2, a comedy that has made over £42m.

13iht-rcannessaul-superJumbo

Source: Nicolas Rapold, The New York Times, May 12, 2015

The Hungarian film “Saul Fia” (Son of Saul) takes place in a hell within hell: the world of the Sonderkommandos, the Jews in Auschwitz who were forced to dispose of the dead. Separated from the general population of prisoners, they manned the crematories, and were themselves purged every few months. The routine epitomizes a death camp where, as Primo Levi wrote in “Survival in Auschwitz,” “many social habits and instincts are reduced to silence.”

Auschwitz would be a grim challenge for any filmmaker to portray, but “Son of Saul” is in fact a debut feature, by the Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes. His unusual Holocaust drama is a rare first film selected for the competition at the Cannes International Film Festival.

“Laszlo Nemes shows what we thought would be impossible to show in a fiction film, an extermination camp at work, as a factory of death,” said the film historian and critic Antoine de Baecque. “By following the specific gaze of a cog inside this machinery,” he added, “the movie successfully adopts, with discipline and fairness, the only possible representation of a tragedy morally unfilmable.”

In writing and directing the story, Mr. Nemes, 38, sought a clear-eyed realism about horrors that remain painful to imagine. Set over a 36-hour period in October 1944, “Son of Saul” hews to the perspective of Saul Auslander, a fictional member of a Sonderkommando unit. One day, Saul thinks he recognizes his lost son among the dead to be cremated, and his obsessive efforts to bury the boy puts him in conflict with prisoners who are plotting a rebellion.

“Our approach was to follow a main character through a very limited space and time, and have a very simple and almost archaic story as the skeleton of the film,” Mr. Nemes said in a Skype conversation from Budapest, where he lives. “We felt that we couldn’t shoot the whole Holocaust. We didn’t want to tell too much and shoot too much.”

For verisimilitude, Mr. Nemes and his co-writer Clara Royer drew on survivor accounts as well as writings that prisoners buried in the earth and that were discovered years later. Rather than offer a broad view of the camp, as many past movies of the Holocaust have, “Son of Saul” sticks close to its protagonist with very dynamic, very mobile camerawork and limits our focus to what he is looking at.

“The overall idea is you’re like a sea snake, going all over the place,” Mr. Nemes said of his 107-minute feature. “We remain inside the limitations of a human being.” His 2007 short film “With a Little Patience” maintains a similar focus on a blinkered German clerk during the Nazi era.

Mr. Nemes’s formative experience includes a two-year stint as assistant to the Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr on “The Man From London” (2007) (Mr. Nemes’s father, Andras Jeles, is also a director.) With Mr. Tarr, he said, he learned about not only a sense of organic realism and the artistic importance of choosing your battles, but also the centrality of the actor.

For “Son of Saul,” Mr. Nemes found a deeply committed performer in Geza Rohrig, a Hungarian poet who wrote his first collection about the Holocaust and plays Auslander in the film.

“We did not want to talk about the message of Auschwitz,” Mr. Rohrig said of the film’s aims, speaking by telephone from New York, where he has lived for 15 years. “We wanted to create an experience that works on you on a different level, with your bowels, your intestines. We want you to get the intensity and tempo of the life of a Sonderkommando worker.”

Mr. Rohrig had acted a little in Polish and Hungarian films. He said a major religious change in his life came in the 1980s with a visit to Auschwitz, where he recalls seeing among the prisoner artifacts the same brand of toothbrush as his own.

For the actor, “Son of Saul” transcends the tendencies of many Holocaust films, such as “Schindler’s List,” to seek refuge in survival narratives and good-and-evil clichés. Through the death of a son, his character gets an unexpected emotional release. “Everybody is a zombie already in the camp,” Mr. Rohrig said. “People are already destroyed. They only care about their next meal. But witnessing his son’s death, Saul all of a sudden becomes normal.”

Mr. Nemes first met Mr. Rohrig during a short stint at New York University as a film student, and describes him as “very intellectual but at the same time extremely instinctive and physical.” The rest of the film’s cast is mostly international, part of an effort to suggest what he calls the “Babel of languages” in the chaotic camps.

The director’s close-knit creative team included the cinematographer Matyas Erdely, who also shot Mr. Nemes’s short films and features by the Cannes veteran Kornel Mundruczo, also of Hungary. One of the rare features to use 35-millimeter film, “Son of Saul” was shot in 30 days. “What a first feature can afford,” Mr. Nemes said. The budget of about 1.5 million euros, or $1.65 million, came mostly from the Hungarian National Film Fund and the New York-based Claims Conference.

An old military base on the outskirts of Budapest served as the movie’s location. The burden of history was always present for Mr. Nemes, he said — he and some members of his team had relatives who died in the camps. “Why I don’t have a family right now — it’s a very small family — is because of that,” he said. “You can feel the society being haunted by these traumatic experiences and by never having to face what happened.”

Mr. Nemes, , who grew up partly in Paris, felt an “edge of suspicion” from interviewers when talking about the film on television shows in his home country.

“You can feel that they cannot really connect with the material,” he said. “It’s like: Oh, another Holocaust movie. That’s the best you can get. Then: Why do you have to talk about the Holocaust? Why is it important to you?”

For Mr. Rohrig, he is wary of critics who might object to the very attempt to portray the Holocaust with such fidelity.

“I don’t think any subject matter is off the table when it comes to art,” he said. “I think it can be done. I hope it was done by us.”

For Mr. Nemes, however, the film’s importance will not necessarily lie in such external reactions, but in whether it provokes an emotional response in viewers. The film aims to show “the importance of the inner voice when there’s no more hope,” he said, adding, “We still reaffirm some kind of faith in something — some would say God, some would say this belief in humanity, in something universal.”

700_dettaglio2_sfumature-di-verit

Source: Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 2, 2015

A new movie depicting Pope Pius XII as a savior of Jews was slammed by an Italian Jewish publication as “fiction.”

“Shades of Truth,” featuring international stars Christopher Lambert and Giancarlo Giannini, had its premiere on Monday in Vatican City.

The movie attempts to prove that Pius XII was not “Hitler’s Pope,” as some have dubbed him, but “the Vatican’s Schindler,” in reference to the German businessman Oskar Schindler, who is credited with saving some 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.

Critics have long accused Pius of not having done enough to help Jews during the Holocaust, while the Vatican has asserted he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

According to the film’s director, Liana Marabini, the skillful diplomacy of Pius XII saved some 800,000 Jews from persecution.

But an editorial in the Jewish online publication Pagine Ebraiche featuring the headline “Pius XII, a fiction that rewrites history” was quoted Monday in the national press.

“The Vatican archives are still closed but at least Catholic cinema gives us one more fiction to rewrite history,” the editorial read.

Pope Francis will see “Shades of Truth”‘ in September during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. In an interview in June, Francis defended Pius XII’s record during World War II, calling the former pope “the great defender of the Jews.”

6a00d8341c2c6053ef00e54f4d85fb8833-800wi

Source: The Times of Israel, January 31, 2015

A documentary film featuring footage from the Auschwitz death camp has been broadcast to Iranian viewers, exposing many of them for the first time to the atrocities and mass-murder committed by the Nazis against the Jews.

The documentary, titled “Germany’s Führer,” was broadcast on Holocaust Memorial Day by Manoto1, a London-based satellite TV station, and was shot by an Iranian film crew which visited the site. The film details the Nazis rise to power in Europe and discusses the stages leading up to the execution of the Final Solution for the extermination of the Jews.

The showing of the film coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day and marked 70 years since the camp was finally liberated by the Soviet army.

Owning a satellite dish in the Islamic Republic is forbidden by the government, but nevertheless, the documentary was estimated to have been viewed by scores of Iranians.

It is unclear to what extent the film actually managed to change the deeply rooted opinions of many Iranians who maintain the Holocaust was fabricated or perpetrated by the Jewish people as a means to garner world sympathy.

“All these crimes were committed by the Jews themselves so they reach their real objectives,” one viewer wrote on Facebook, according to the Times of London.

Yet the screening of the film did succeed in sparking a lively online debate in Iran, leading some to draw parallels between the Nazis and their leader Adolf Hitler, and the heads of the Islamic Republic.

“We are being trampled under the boots of the likes of Hitler today. At least Hitler wanted to improve the lives of his own people but these people ruling Iran today want everything for themselves,” the Times reported one viewer as writing.

Holocaust denial is widespread in Iran and the position has often been reinforced by the country’s leaders, most notably former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who referred to the Holocaust as “pure fiction.”

However, Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, has publicly acknowledged the Holocaust.

“Any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews, was reprehensible and to be condemned,” Rouhani told CNN in September 2013.

Henryk Schonker w Birkenau 03

Source: Annette Insdorf, New Documentaries Touch the Holocaust, Huffington Post, January 12, 2015

Seventy years after the end of World War II, the Holocaust remains a vital source of drama for motion pictures. Two very different documentaries opening at Manhattan’s Quad Cinema this month demonstrate how the act of filmmaking can be commemorative, investigative, and even revelatory.

Farewell Herr Schwarz (currently playing) represents the compelling personal quest of Yael Reuveny, an Israeli member of “the third generation” (grandchildren of Holocaust survivors). She explores family history in an accessible and illuminating way, tracing ancestral burdens from Israel to Germany, where she now lives.

The Touch of an Angel (opening January 16 at the Quad, as well as the Laemmle Town Center 5 in LA) is rooted in the testimony of “first generation” survivor Henryk Schönker, a Polish Jew from the town of Oświęcim (renamed Auschwitz by the Nazis). After the war, he moved back to Oświęcim, but was forced to leave in 1955 and emigrated to Israel.

Farewell Herr Schwarz , a co-production of Germany and Israel, traces Yael Reuveny’s fascination with her grandmother Michla’s tale of separation from her brother Feiv’ke: originally from Vilna, both survived the Holocaust, but never found each other in 1945 at the Lodz train station where they were supposed to meet. She traveled to Palestine, assuming he died.

But he was alive. He chose to stay in the very area of Schlieben where he had been a Buchenwald prisoner. Renamed Peter Schwartz, and married to a Gentile woman, he remained secretive about his past. His son Uwe learned only in 1995 that his father was Jewish–a heritage he embraces during the film’s second section. The third part focuses on Stephan—the grandson of Peter Schwartz–who studies Jewish history in Berlin and then moves to Jerusalem.

Photographs are suggestive in Farewell Herr Schwarz , which returns to a cracked pre-war photo in which the two siblings are beside each other–the crease representing all that ultimately separated them. Later, Stephan shows Yael a framed photo of her great-uncle Peter, taken three months after his Liberation from Buchenwald: while still wearing a concentration camp uniform, he is smiling–along with other inmates, now holding rifles.

Given the importance of photos in Farewell Herr Schwarz , the film’s inclusion of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel–with everyone frozen in place–suggests a static memorializing. This is a contrast to the very mobile act of commemoration practiced by Reuveny’s filmmaking.

Tel Aviv is also the current home of Henryk Schönker, but The Touch of an Angelbegins with him entering an abandoned, ruined space and painting a canvas there. What a surprise to learn that this was his family home in Oświęcim, which the Nazis turned into their headquarters. He is a riveting subject and–although deaf–speaks an elegant pre-war Polish.

In 1939, Schönker’s father was the chairman of the Jewish community, whose task–ordered by German military authorites–was to organize the Bureau of Emigration of Jews to Palestine. But The Touch of an Angel is less didactic or historical than poetic, including imaginary glimpses of the miracles Schönker recalls.

Director Marek Tomasz Pawlowski superimposes actors’ faces on old photos, an effect that prepares for the insertion of actors into archival footage. (The extras include Oświęcim’s own inhabitants.) While some critics bristle at reenactments in a documentary, art was so important to Henryk and his family (music as well as painting) that the aesthetic experimentation seems valid.

For example, he remembers hearing in Cracow a neighbor’s “violin weeping” and says, “I inhaled this music.” Like Dariusz Jablonski’s magnificent film Photographer, The Touch of an Angel interweaves the score of Michal Lorenc contrapuntally, as gentle music accompanies Schönker’s wrenching memories.

Pawlowski calls his technique “archicollage.” Interviewed via e-mail, he said it enabled a “journey into the past, creating short, silent impressions through the stylization of archival material.” He already used this type of experimentation in his documentary of 2007, The Runaway (winner of thirteen international awards).

The film’s producer Małgorzata Walczak explained that it took many years of research by historians before their company Zoyda Art Production found evidence supporting Henryk’s recollections. “Leo Schönker, Henryk’s father, was the last chairman of the Jewish Community in Auschwitz,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“He established the Bureau of Emigration of Jews to Palestine. This chance for legal immigration is hardly known, and raises the question of how many Jewish refugees might have been saved if other countries had accepted them. Summoned by Eichmann to Berlin, he reported on his Bureau’s activities in the hope of saving thousands of Jews willing to emigrate.”

In Berlin, Leo Schönker also met with Professor Leo Baeck, “who said about the tragic situation of Europe’s Jews, “‘They are going to be squeezed like a lemon and the peel is going to be thrown into the furnace.'”

This fearful prediction was indeed realized, but a fraction of European Jewry managed to survive. Films like Farewell Herr Schwarz and The Touch of an Angelprovide a bridge from their experiences to our own time. As Yael Reuveny put it, “Farewell Herr Schwarz is not a film about the Holocaust – or about Peter or Feiv’ke or my grandmother – but about us, their children and grandchildren.” She called storytelling a “survival method … to put order into the catastrophe.”

Columbia University Film Professor Annette Insdorf is the author of Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust.

2012_0126Germany20120110

Source: Huffington Post, November 1, 2014

(RNS) As aging Holocaust survivors gathered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to celebrate its 20th anniversary last year, a question hung in the air:

How will the world remember the Holocaust — the Nazis’ systematic murder of 6 million Jews — when the last survivors are gone?

It’s a question Joshua M. Greene, the writer and producer of “Memory After Belsen,” grapples with in his new documentary that will premiere at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York on Nov. 20 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

“The further we get away from the actual events of history, the more difficult it will be to stimulate interest, the more difficult it will be to avoid the Holocaust fading into ancient lore,” said Greene.

That concern is echoed by Jews and Holocaust educators around the world.

“There is nothing that can truly replace the impact of meeting with someone who has gone through this experience,” said Elizabeth Gelman, executive director of the Florida Holocaust Museum. “We see that everyday here. Junior high school kids and high school kids come in, wiggling and poking each other. It’s just an excuse to get out of school. And then when they sit down, and a survivor starts talking, they are laser focused.”

At its New York premiere, the 76-minute film will be screened in its entirety. But Greene and director Shiva Kumar made “Memory After Belsen” so that it can also be watched in segments, to make it easier for high school and college teachers to show it in parts to classes on the Holocaust that may stretch over days or weeks.

Greene and Kumar make the point with Memory After Belsen, but also with footage taken by Allied troops who liberated the camps and clips from popular movies, that film can capture Holocaust memories.

They also shows how artists, writers, musicians and museum curators have documented and interpreted the Holocaust for future generations.

But Greene and Kumar seem most intrigued by one particular way to preserve memory — through the grandchildren of the survivors.

The film follows Robyn Thaler Hickey, whose grandmother was the lone member of her family to survive the Bergen-Belsen death camp. Hickey’s journey to the camp, now a memorial, begins with her plane ride to Germany. Wearing jeans, hipster glasses and a ponytail, she snaps pictures of the land below with her smartphone, wondering in a voiceover about the place where her grandmother’s family lies in mass graves.

And she wonders about her responsibility to get her personal history right.

“If I have kids one day, what story am I going to tell them?” she asks. “And what if I got it wrong. It would be really upsetting if I got it wrong.”

Holocaust educator Tracy Garrison-Feinberg explains, at the end of the film, why everyone — Jewish or not — should ask Hickey’s question.

“I’m an African-American Southerner. I’m a Catholic . . . this is not my history,” she said, putting those last words in quotes with her fingers. But “we are capable of great evil and we are capable of great goodness and grace,” she continued. “Ultimately it’s my history, because it’s human history.”

Her answer raises a further question tackled by the film: Should the Holocaust be taught as a unique or universal experience? Does it stand alone, or with other genocides?

Greene, whose own grandmother was one of two members of her family to survive the Holocaust — the others died at Auschwitz — said he believes the Holocaust teaches universal lessons.

But the risk of universalizing the Holocaust “is to strip it from its particular horror” and perhaps fail to understand its breadth and scope, said Greene who teaches religion at Hofstra University on Long Island.

Let’s not broaden it too much, he warned, “in the name of some abstract concept such as ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’”

SUBDECENT-superJumbo

Source: The New York Times, September 30, 2014

A chilling disconnect runs through “The Decent One,” Vanessa Lapa’s relentless, numbing presentation of letters, diary entries and high-quality period footage that illustrates Heinrich Himmler’s rise from patriotic child to position of horrible power in the Third Reich.

The film’s juxtaposition of Himmler’s correspondence and German history is complex and fluid. His fussy reports about work and his love letters (signed “Heini”) rattle and offend with their untroubled banality. Read aloud in sometimes spirited voice-over by actors, they can instill a feeling of powerlessness before the deadly march of events. As Himmler’s life and an entire nation’s course are charted, the telling details that arise — routine bigotry, the fierce urge to serve, righteous family bonds — have a way of explaining everything and nothing.

Yet this steady stream becomes rough going. Ms. Lapa’s sources, acquired for the making of this documentary, are unusually rich (and their very quantity helps to dramatize the bureaucratic side of Nazi atrocity). But the voice-over-driven readings and the illustrative footage — unwisely augmented with new sound effects — lack a fundamental filmic momentum.

Many freshly haunting and illuminating undercurrents are brought forth all the same — for example, the Himmlers’ consideration of how to treat a child they have adopted. A possibly reassuring note is struck in the credits, which reflect the efforts not only of Ms. Lapa, granddaughter of survivors, but also of Himmler’s own great-niece. —Nicolas Rapold

Further reviews on Salon and Variety