A Film Unfinished
Now Showing at: Mariemont Theatre
Review by: Larry Thomas
Sometimes documentary films are hard to watch, especially when putting past history in context. But sometimes it’s necessary to watch in order to learn. A Film Unfinished is such a project. Not only is it necessary to help understand history, it also points up the importance of film archives and those archivists who preserve and protect motion picture film even when it may seem of little importance.
At the end of WWII, 60 minutes of raw 35mm film was deposited in an East German archive. Shot by the Nazis in Warsaw, Poland in May 1942, and labeled simply "Ghetto," this footage quickly became a resource for historians seeking an authentic record of life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Some forty years later, the discovery of a long-missing reel, including multiple takes and clear evidence of staged scenes, complicated earlier readings of the footage.
A Film Unfinished presents the raw footage in its entirety, carefully noting fictionalized sequences (including a staged dinner party) falsely showing "the good life" enjoyed by Jewish urbanites, and probes deep into the making of a now-infamous Nazi propaganda film.
A Film Unfinished is a film of enormous impact, documenting some of the worst horrors of our time and exposing the efforts of its perpetrators to further their agenda and cast it in a favorable light.
Director Yael Hersonski exposes the lie behind the film, and how film can be manipulated for specific purposes to fool an audience. She shows the edited footage to a few survivors from the Warsaw Ghetto and captures their emotional, and unbelieving reactions to the false portrait of life there. There are recreated readings of text from diaries kept by many Jews in Warsaw to link the images on screen to what’s actually occurring in real-life.
Needless to say, the Nazis staged some of the scenes to look almost like someone’s family home movies. Other shots are horrific in nature, in which the Warsaw Jews are ordered to walk past corpses in the street without emotion to indicate their indifference toward suffering.
Director Hersonski is making her feature film debut with A Film Unfinished and earns her stripes as an important documentarian in the process. It’s an essential work for the reasons previously mentioned, and although its not on the short list of documentaries eligible for an Oscar nomination next month, it’s still essential viewing for those who care, those who care about history, and those who care about film.
A Film Unfinished is now showing at the new Kenwood Theatre.