Monday, January 5, 2015

Yael Reuveny's FAREWELL, HERR SCHWARZ: another strange and fascinating Holocaust tale

TrustMovies is beginning to think it's inevitable: the more Holocaust documentaries that appear, the better and more interesting they seem to become. This subject -- of the Nazi intent to destroy the world's Jewish population and its aftermath (it's that aftermath that has produced some of the finest of these docs) -- appears to be inexhaustible. Just when you think you've encountered the strangest of these true tales (take The Flat, for instance: see it, if you haven't yet; it's available to stream via the usual suspects), along comes another that surprises and seduces. Such a film is this week's opener, FAREWELL, HERR SCHWARZ.

As written, directed and narrated by Yael Reuveny (shown at left, who also appears throughout the documentary), the film tells of her family's experience during and after the Holocaust (mostly after) and spans three generations, beginning with her grandmother, Michla (shown below, pre-Holocaust, in the front row, second from left), who survived it, along with the grandmother's brother, Feiv'ke shown below, front row, at left), who did, too. In fact, early on the movie explains how Feiv'ke was a man who "died twice." If only it were that easy. Feiv'ke's story, which includes a kind of "identity" change that involves both name and history becomes one of those mysteries about us humans' ability to do some very odd things, while leaving all trace of reason or motive buried. And so Ms Reuveny's documentary becomes a search for answers, some of which are forthcoming while others remain shrouded.

Part of a good mystery lies in its unfolding, and so I must say little about what occurs here -- except to note that we meet quite a few members of the filmmaker's family, some of whom she knows quite well, others who prove a surprise.

What distinguishes Farewell, Herr Schwarz, besides its unfurling story, is the role Ms Reuveny plays in it all and how learning what she learns affects her. More than in most documentaries I can recall, we seem to be able to see here how the actual processing of information works: How the characters take in what they are learning and how they try to deal with it.

There are times here in which the camera simply watches and waits, as Reuveny struggles to understand events, motives and meaning. As we watch, we find ourselves trying to deal with all this, too.

This kind of processing is extremely important, I think, to families rocked by the Holocaust, the effects of which just keep unravelling from generation to generation. How each generation deals with that event -- whether by repression, shame, therapy, or even the embrace of Germany (one of Ms Reuveny's ways of dealing) -- proves something fraught and fascinating in itself.

We meet friends and relatives that take in the three generations, and they are all lively and interesting (one of the most enjoyable is the old woman friend of grandmother Michla (above) who has a number of thoughtful and sad things to tell us. Another new relative is a tall young German man (below) who proves as interested in Israel and Ms Reuveny is in Germany.

Another nice sidelight here is how certain folk discovered their Jewish roots and how they responded to this (Madeleine Albright could learn something). All in all, this small movie about one family and its continuing experience with the Holocaust is a quietly provocative experience.

The film -- from Kino Lorber and running 96 minutes -- opens this Friday, January 9, for a one-week run at New York City's Quad Cinema and on Saturday, January 10, for a two-day run at Manhattan's JCC on Manhattan's upper west side.

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