Monday, March 8, 2021

A new Holocaust documentary, Slawomir Grünberg's STILL LIFE IN LODZ, hits virtual

For awhile there, it seemed as though we were getting a new Holocaust documentary every few months, if not nearly monthly. TrustMovies is not certain what happened to stop this -- perhaps the onset of COVID-19 -- but the flow has certainly slowed down of late. After four years of the Trump administration, the rise of Q-anon and more lies and stupidity than you ever thought you've have to endure, it seems salutary, at least, to get back to history, even if that history covers a particularly awful period for much of humanity. All of which brings us to STILL LIFE IN LODZ, with direction and cinematography by Slawomir Grünberg (shown below), which is, while nowhere near the best of this genre, still a necessary addition to the record of the Holocaust.

Written by (and telling the story of) Lilka Elbaum, shown below, the doc covers her family's experience just post-war (1945 - 1968) in the city of Lodz, Poland, and in particular a painting that hung on the wall in the apartment in which Ms Elbaum and her family lived and has subsequently become hugely important in her life. 

Whether it will be for you (it certainly was not for me) is another matter. While the painting more or less holds this documentary (barely) together, it also makes for a lot of repetition and takes up an undue amount of time, even though the doc itself lasts only 76 minutes. 

Elbaum's own family story clearly did not provide content enough to fill up an entire film, and so two other people and their own stories are added here, that of New Yorker Paul Celler and Israeli photographer Roni Ben Ari, both of whom have family roots in Lodz. Yet in the hands of Grünberg and Elbaum these stories don't mesh particularly well, and so the movie simply clunks along, parceling out its history and information in rather catch-as-catch-can fashion.  

In terms of style, Still life in Lodz uses archival footage, along with drawings and animation (as above) to show what those archives cannot. This has been done in various previous docs, and it still works well enough here.

The most interesting segments cover the history of Lodz itself, prior to the Nazi invasion, as well as during and after. Poland has a long history of rabid antisemitism (it was yet another bout of this that led to Elbaum's family having to relocate), and how their neighbors and supposed friends reacted to the Jews being forced to clean the streets of the city once the Nazis took over is one of the film's more telling anecdotes. Others are provided by Mr. Celler (shown below) and Ms Ben Ari. (Celler's reminiscence about hot humid days and what they make him think of will pull you up short.) 

Among the most interesting visuals the movie offers are black-and-white archival shots of old Lodz that morph into present-day scenes in color (as below, just prior to the color being added). 

Elbaum's mother survived the final two years of Nazi terror via the kindness and help of a Polish gentile family who hid her, and we visit the offspring of this family toward the end of Still Life in Lodz. And then we get restoration of that painting to the wall of the apartment building in which it hung for so long. Perhaps you will be more moved by and/or interested in this moment than was I.

The documentary, mostly in English and with English subtitles in any case, opens this Friday, March 12, in virtual theaters across the country. Click here to see all currently scheduled screenings, with cities and theaters listed.

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