Friday, October 01, 2010

A Film Unfinished

I saw this eerie holocaust documentary this afternoon. The basis for the documentary is a silent film shot by the Nazis on location in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. At first, this film appears to document life in the ghetto, some of it looking comfortable, most of it brutal. A reel of outtakes reveals that it is actually staged, even street scenes showing SS men dispersing a crowd.

A Film Unfinished presents the raw documentary footage plus the outtakes, thoughtfully intercut with interviews of former ghetto residents watching the film & excerpts from an evasive post-war deposition by the cameraman Willy Wist. As one would expect, the images are visceral & powerful, especially the piercing, emaciated faces of the ghetto residents. Just as powerful is the modern-day footage of a ghetto survivor averting her eyes from the film at its most horrific moments. Because the ultimate purpose of the Nazi film is unclear, this documentary unfolds like a mystery story without a solution.

This is not something that is going to cheer anybody up, but it treats the content with an almost surgical calm & gives you room to think as well as to react. I like that the ghetto survivors are listed as "Witnesses" in the closing credits. Many of the people who attended the screening came in supplied with popcorn, snacks & soft drinks. I would not recommend this, as the film is replete with images of starvation.

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