A Film Unfinished deconstructs a piece of lost Nazi propaganda
A documentary by Yael Hersonski. In English, German, Polish, and Hebrew with English subtitles. Rated PG. Plays Wednesday, November 10, Friday and Saturday, November 12 and 13, and Thursday, November 18, at the Ridge Theatre
Twenty years ago, The Architecture of Doom, a German-made look at Nazi aesthetics, asserted that a pathologically romantic view of beauty led inevitably to Germany’s annihilating “cleanse” of Europe. In A Film Unfinished, the focus is narrowed to one dark work of art—a single movie—forcing a thoughtful reexamination of the way its images, and others, live in our collective memories.
Watch the trailer for A Film Unfinished.
Israeli writer-director Yael Hersonski starts with a one-hour item simply called The Ghetto. Ostensibly a record of life in the Warsaw Ghetto, it was filmed in early 1942, shortly before the transports to the camps began. It has since shown up as clips and stills in countless summations of the Final Solution. But how accurate was that record?
Never screened publicly in Hitler’s time, the film itself sat in an East German vault until 1998, when researchers found a third reel, containing many outtakes from the first two. Now it was possible to clearly see, along with peeks at the Nazi cameramen themselves, how thoroughly contrived the footage was. The propagandists behind it presumably thought that shoving a handful of prosperous-looking Jews before armies of walking corpses in rags would make the Jewish people somehow responsible for the terror about to befall them. In the end, the unfaked suffering of the “extras” may have proved too real to yield to any fiction.
Aided by sparse narration, by Israeli singer Rona Kenan, and even sparer music, Hersonski occasionally interrupts the footage with comments from survivors, plus an interview with the only SS “artist” to testify about the production. These scenes are themselves staged, with actor Rí¼diger Vogler reading transcripts. The layers of meaning run deep here, and their edges are sharp enough to slice the skin of any skeptic, whether Holocaust denier or someone who, say, thinks it’s wise to build towering walls around occupied peoples.