Considering all of that, I'm sure Director Yael Hersonski's "A Film Unfinished" is the best Holocaust movie I've ever seen.
I've read all the news stories on the film highlighed at the homepage. Not to rehash, the key to the movie is the set of four reels of German propaganda footage that have never been put together for a single production. While widely seen in the Jewish film community, only snippets have been used in documentaries over time. Ms. Hersonski, a 34 year-old Israeli filmmaker, had worried that "there would be no Holocaust survivors left to bear witness to the atrocities they once experienced," so she saw in this recently discovered material the opportunity to make an existential commentary on the Jews and memory, the science of documentary filmmaking, and the aims of Nazi propaganda.
There is some mystery as to what exactly the Nazi propagandists were planning with the footage. A great deal of staging --- especially scenes of well-to-do Jews contrasted and combined with the poor and ragged --- was used most likely to make the case for a decadent, uncaring class of Jews indifferent to the death and dying of those with less. These families didn't in fact seem "rich" to me. They appeared the way I would expect Jewish people to live in 20th-century industrialized Poland. Perhaps there were some luxuries of furniture and style and cuisine, but these appeared not so socially exorbitant in isolation from the horrors of was happening without. In fact, perhaps it will take more viewings, but for me it's the 100 percent genuine documentation of man's inhumanity to man that is central to the experience of "A Film Unfinished." One word summed up the first half of the movie: starvation. The raw, searing clips of emaciated people, walking corpses many of them, is authentic by definition in this picture, and the viewer feels as though she's let in on a secret, since much of this kind of documentary record was destroyed. There is little physical violence perpertrated against the Jews by the Nazis seen here. It's the systematic killing by starvation that shocks the soul. Inhabitants of the ghetto received a ration of 186 calories a day. It was not known at first that the ghetto's population was to be deported to Treblinka. But we see dead bodies strewn along the sidewalks, and the most emotion generated by the film comes from the interviews with five Warsaw Ghetto survivors who agreed to watch the Nazi footage. This is astonishing filmmaking. And there's more to it, but I'll hold off on commenting on the final reel, which concludes the film.
Perhaps another Holocaust movie will come along and I'll say once again, "this is the best one I've ever seen." I don't know. I simply know that for me --- and for what I've experienced in my life, from childhood to my career --- it's been this question of Jewish 20th-century existentialism that has compelled a moral understanding of life and politics. Perhaps there are even bigger problems to humanity than the Holocaust. I think Yael Hersonski wants those who see this movie to remember and then apply their experience to improving the goodness of the world. But because there are so many things that are unique to this history, and because Americans are implicated in it in so many ways, I doubt that I'll lose my fascination with the topic any time soon.
RELATED: I posted the film's trailer previously here.