Monday, June 6, 2016

Eye-opening & thought-provoking: Janina Quint & Tal Recanati's GERMANS & JEWS

The new documentary from Janina Quint and Tal Recanati (their first film, so far as TrustMovies can ascertain) is said to have begun from a private and informal conversation between Ms Recanti (an American Jew) and Ms Quint (a non-Jewish German). The result of this conversation, however, is a surprisingly rigorous and enormously edifying new movie, GERMANS & JEWS, that should open a number of doors in the dialog between those titular objects, while managing to be thought-provoking, humane, sometimes funny, and always rich in ideas.

Ms Quint, shown at right, and Ms Recanati (below, left) have opened up their initial conversation to include a number of other talking heads (often with gesticulating limbs) who take us into areas we might not expect to go but will end up quite pleased to have visited. They've filmed eight, ten, maybe twelve people around a dinner table who go at it cordially and interestingly, as they discuss what it means to be Jewish in Germany today, what it means to be German in Germany (and the world), what kind of a country Germany was back in the day -- and, yes, I do mean the day of the Nazis and the Holocaust -- as well as what kind of
a country Germany has currently become. We learn some of the unintended results of immigration there today -- Germany is one of the most welcoming countries of the new Europe, even now with the many problems that come from this, such as a concurrent rise in anti-Semitism due to so many of the new immigrants arriving from places where this attitude is prevalent. We also discover how knowledge of and attitudes toward the Holocaust have changed down the ensuing decades, including those of post-war children toward their Nazi parents/grandparents.

Though that dinner party and its guests look interesting enough to have taken up the entire movie, I suspect the filmmakers were wise to only show us some of the conversation -- which they intersperse with chat and ideas from the guests during separate interviews and also from other folk who were not present but have some good thoughts and ideas on offer.

These include the likes of historian/professor/author Thorsten Wagner, below, who has reams of smart stuff to tell us, and the amused and amusing historian Fritz Stern, shown above, who died only last month, aged 90. These and others are interlaced into the dinner conversation, and the overall effect is one of off-the-cuff but highly intelligent talk -- about subjects that are hugely important today, as they have been ever since the time of Hitler and well before then.

Learning about the state of Germany today is both surprising and fascinating, especially for someone of my advanced age who grew up with the tales of World War II fresh in my mind. This is a history told first-hand by Germans who experienced it, and we learn everything from the enormous effect of the American television show Holocaust on the German populace when it was first shown to the way in which German teens of the 1960s could level the accusation "You were a Nazi!" against their parents. (At times the new Germany, which may now be the single most democratic country in the world, is depicted with such fervor and relish, especially from the Jews who now live there, that the doc threatens to becomes a kind of commercial for Deutschland über alles.)

The movie is occasionally quite funny -- as when a dinner guest brings up her experience that Jews are always interrupting -- and sometimes hugely moving. A scene in which a German woman explains the importance of keeping the brass memorial plaques to dead Jews polished and bright, and how she felt when relatives of the dead thanked her for her efforts is especially impressive. As is the tale another tells of the effect of hearing the cheering at a football game -- "Deutschland! Deutschland!" -- at which her Jewish son is playing for the German team.

There's an extemporaneous feel to the documentary that almost belies its great importance. It's also quite short -- just 76 minutes -- but its cumulative effect is extraordinary. From First Run Features, Germans & Jews opens this Friday, June 10, in New York City at the Cinema Village and will also play this Thursday, June 9, and Sunday, June 12, at the Greenwich International Film Festival in Connecticut. Elsewhere? I certainly hope so. Click here to keep up with currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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