Thursday, June 2, 2016

Holocaust-lite in Uwe Janson's entertaining melodrama of cabaret and disarray, TO LIFE!

Here comes yet another movie that uses the Holocaust as a backdrop for a modern-day tale -- this one spanning generations, eras, and illnesses, one psychological, the other quite physical.

TO LIFE! (Auf das Leben!) -- with an exclamation point, and not to be confused with the French film bearing a similar title (without exclamation), À la vie, which opened recently in theaters --  is the work of German filmmaker Uwe Janson (below), who directed, and the writer Thorsten Wettcke and re-writer Volker Kellner, both of whom worked from an original story by Stephen Glantz.

Their little melodrama almost immediately begins flashing back and forth between several eras: that of the Holocaust when our heroine was but a child, to post-war when she became a successful adult cabaret performer, to now when she is a senior citizen about to be moved from her long-time lodgings into newer, more modern, but unwelcome quarters.

A new home (and not a bad one, at that) should hardly drive a person to suicide, and this is the first of several melodramatic turns taken by this new movie. But never fear: Our heroine -- played as a senior quite well by the famous German actress Hannelore Elsner (above, left, of the wonderful Doris Dörrie film, Cherry Blossoms) -- is saved by the uber-handsome young man who happens to have been recently hired as a mover and manages to get our gal to the hospital just in time.

That young man is played by one of Germany's leading actors, and certainly one of its most beautiful, Max Riemelt (above and below), whom TrustMovies has seen often and always enjoyed (We Are the Night, The Wave, Free Fall, and most recently in the Netflix series Sense8). Mr. Riemelt's combo of talent and looks is usually reason enough to view anything in which he appears, and here again, the actor comes through just fine, playing a young man named Jonas, whose physical problems outweigh just about everything else, including a girlfriend he has left in the lurch, not wanting to inflict his sickness and its responsibility upon her. (Riemelt also plays a double role here, as the filmmaker who comes into the life of our heroine in her "middle period.")

Back and forth in time we go, until a good deal of the past is explained -- but generally too quickly and shallowly to give much depth, so that we "experience" things on pretty much a skin-deep level. This enables us to follow the story and appreciate the performances, but it does not offer us much genuine involvement in what we see.

The film is full of "event" -- everything from Nazi death and destruction to various cabaret performances (by the actress who plays the adult Ruth, Sharon Brauner, shown above and below), an after-the-fact stabbing of a very bad ex-doctor -- and yet by the finale, we're not much more involved than we were at the film's beginning. We've understood what's gone on without becoming moved or deepened by anything we've seen or heard.

Some of that hearing involves old songs that folk imbued in Jewish culture will probably appreciate. This may add a reason to venture out to the theatre for a look/hear. Otherwise, this perfectly entertaining, lets-help-each-other-through-life, Holocaust melodrama will look just fine as seen eventually on home video.

From Menemsha Films and running a relatively short 91 minutes, To Life! opens tomorrow here in South Florida in Broward County at The Last Picture Show in Tamarac, and in Palm Beach County at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth. Elsewhere? We shall see. As of now, these are the only playdates that appears on the Menemsha theatrical release schedule. But the film will certainly be available at some point on either-or-both DVD and streaming. 

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