Warsaw Ghetto – from Polanski’s award-winning The Pianist to the rather silly Jews-fight-back-while-falling-in-love War and Love (aka The Children’s War), not to mention countless documentaries -- it is still a kick in the gut and the head to experience a movie like the new A FILM UNFINISHED from documentarian Yael Hersonski (shown below). Whatever the "magic of movies" (and I'm a firm believer in same), to my mind no narrative film I've yet seen begins to pack the punch of watching a documentary that covers the actual Holocaust. There is something about the reality of documentary film that wipes the floor with the near-impossible-to-resist romanticizing that occurs in narrative Holocaust movies, from Schindler's List to whichever film you care to name. (Only, to a major extent, at least, Lajos Kotai's Fateless manages to avoid -- or maybe incorporate -- this in a way that does not end up somehow reducing the Holocaust.)
That film is both a documentary and a faux documentary, as the Nazis appear to have documented the horrors of their ghetto but have also used some of the healthier looking Jews to create scenes of supposedly wealthy Semites partaking in "fun" activities -- dancing (below), dining and, hmmm, other things -- while their poorer brethren suffer terribly from want -- and being noticeably disdainful of them in the process. We learn some of this information because an actual cameraman on the project, one Willy Wist, was found along the way (captured once in his actual Nazi uniform) and speaks to us here about the film.
Adam Cherniakov. One can only wonder what he would make of some of the ridiculous "scenes" the Nazis created in their film: the "circumcision," the ritual bath in which men and women bathe naked together, or the many "takes" the cameramen had to manage in order to get the correct piece of "reality." We see some of these, and they would be a hoot, were the subject matter different.
Finally, it is the very idea of this film that should command one's imagination most tightly. When is a film "real," and when is a real film "fake"? For a blog with the name TrustMovies, this has partic-
ular meaning. I still stand by my thesis that movies are indeed to be trusted. Sometimes as much for their falsity (and what this signifies) as for their truth. In any case -- in every case -- we first have to know how to "read" them.
A Film Unfinished, via Oscilloscope Laboratories, begins its premiere U.S. theatrical run in New York City at Film Forum this Wednesday, August 18. Click here for the FF performance schedule. You can find the complete list of upcoming playdates, theaters and cities here.