Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Avi Angel's HERE I LEARNED TO LOVE: two brothers' Holocaust history explored tardily

They're arriving weekly now, these remembrances of horror and hope. The latest is another family journey made by brothers, now in their 70s, as they track their own history in the 1940s from Poland and the Jewish ghetto through escape, fleeing through local fields, impri-sonment again, and on to Hun-gary, Germany, Switzerland and finally Israel. One brother, Izhak, is much more familiar with the tale than his younger sibling, Avner, who has long preferred humor/avoidance as a means of getting by.

As written and directed by Avi Angel, shown at left, HERE I LEARNED TO LOVE is short (just 60 minutes) and to the point. Almost at the beginning we hear someone (I am guessing it's the filmma-ker) explain, "Avner Kerem (shown below, foreground), my sister-in-law's father, never spoke about his experience in the Holocaust as a child. When he turned 70, he accepted my offer to set out with his older brother Izhak (below and behind Avner) on a journey that would trace their survival route and perhaps, on the way, important insights would be gained."

The above is pretty close to exactly what the film achieves. From an early scene in which the brothers spar lightly about their various medicines (and end up toasting by clicking their pill boxes) through the journey they take, the facts that come to light, along with the feelings they engender, turn this short film into yet another unusual and moving Holocaust story.

The film is based on a memoir written by Izhak called Three Mothers for Two Brothers, and the heart of the tale involves the three women who acted as mother and protector to the siblings: their birth mother, her sister (or perhaps sister-in-law) into whose care the children were given when their parents were taken to the concentration camp, and finally another young woman, Naomi, who became their protector in one of the camps.

The details of the story are full of the kind of specificity that startles and moves, and their effect on Avner (above, who has, up to now, kept himself from leaning of them) is major. For Izhak, who already knew all this, the goal is to finally share this with his brother.

Of all the specifics we learn, probably the most moving and awful is that of the aunt who took the children from their birth mother. Already herself pregnant, how she saves the brothers and then is herself made childless, is as horrible as it is memorable.

One thing I would have liked to know, as the film moved along, was who these brother are now -- who they had become. At movie's end, the filmmaker gives us this via still photos and written information. This is a quick and efficient way to manage this; adding it into the film itself would probably have increased the running time to that of a full-length documentary.

Here I Learned to Love (that title and where it comes from is probably worth an entire film unto itself) opens this Friday in New York City at the Quad Cinema, where the filmmaker is said to be making some personal appearances during the run.  Check the Quad's website (above) as the opening nears....

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