There is only one true Holocaust film being shown at 10th Boulder Jewish Film Festival, but the memory of the Holocaust looms large – and small – over many of the titles this year.
“Persian Lessons,” which takes place in the camps, was by far the best of the many Holocaust films I previewed over the last 18 months. Told with a measure of black humor, this startling drama depicts a clever cat- and-mouse game between a desperate prisoner and the capricious camp commandant.
“Berenshtein” is based on the harrowing exploits of a Ukrainian officer serving with the Soviet partisans during WW II, and while the Holocaust is never far from the viewer’s mind, the film’s focus is on the battles waging on the Eastern front. Additionally, a discovery by our Jewish hero is crucial to defeating the Nazis.
“Plan A,” based on a real plot to poison Germany’s water, takes place immediately after the Holocaust, which serves as the motive for survivors to exact revenge. This exciting drama is currently in theatrical release and enjoying great reviews.
“Speer Goes to Hollywood” is even more removed in time from the Holocaust, but focuses on one of its most infamous perpetrators, Albert Speer. Having served 20 years in prison for his role as head of slave labor, Hitler’s close friend and chief architect is now living comfortably and shockingly seeks to rehabilitate his reputation.
“Out of Exile: The Photography of Fred Stein” focuses on a refugee who flees the impending doom of Nazi Germany, unable to rescue his family from the flames. His brief but brilliant life as an acclaimed photographer is haunted by the Holocaust.
In “Adventures of a Mathematician,” the persecution of Jews in Europe serves as a motivating factor for Jewish scientist Stan Ulam, a Polish refugee, to join the Manhattan Project in hopes of ending the war before his family and his people perish.
In the sunny comedy “Kiss Me Kosher,” the cloud hangs over the marriage between an Israeli woman and a German woman. Similarly, in the short film “Holy Holocaust,” the friendship between an Israeli and a German is tested by revelations from the past.
The specter of the Holocaust touches all of these films in varying degrees, while only one depicts the horrors directly. I anticipate lively conversations following each of them. CU Professor Paul Shankman, a Holocaust scholar and longtime friend of the festival, will join me for the post-screening discussions of “Persian Lessons,” “Berenshtein,” and “Speer Goes to Hollywood.”
Films are windows through which we view the world, and these movies reveal the many ways that the tragedy of history shapes that world.