I don’t quite know how to review this film.
I guess I can start with what I remember from growing up in Denmark: The socialistic movement in the 80s in Denmark was still afraid of Germany. I was 8 years old when the wall fell in 1989 and I remember teachers talking about Nazi Germany and being afraid of what might happen.
Going to a socialistic oriented elementary school in Copenhagen, I was exposed to many WWII documentaries in order to ensure that we were aware of the past and in that way, nothing like it would ever happen again.
Every year on the night of May 4th, I remember people would light candles in all the houses and apartment windows in Copenhagen in order to mark the day we got liberated from the Nazis.
I remember stories my grandmother told me about having to hide in bomb shelters.
Throughout my childhood every first Wednesday of the month — at noon— the city would test the air strike alarm sirens.
I think that A Film Unfinished is an unfinished film itself For me, there is no way to sum up or conclude anything, except that WWWII was one of the worst wars of newer history.
I think Yael Hersonski structured her film in the same way most war documentaries have been structured: Innumerable images of dead bodies piled on top of each other, starving Jews, gypsies, homosexuals accused of being sex offenders, people digging graves for their friends and themselves or working as slaves in factories for the Nazi war machine.
I think that at a certain point —as a viewer— you stop paying attention to all the death you see, and the affect of it wears off. When seeing other people’s hurt or suffering empathy allows us to feel what they feel, but if you are overwhelmed by that feeling you automatically close down. If you don’t you, it is hard to continue without hating yourself for not doing anything, even though there is nothing you could have done. As a director, you must be careful when aiming for empathy not to show too much death and suffering, it might turn your audience away from the point you are making.
Much like people here in New York or any big city will walk right pass a homeless person without even looking at them because it happens too often, we get desensitized because of the things we see often and cannot deal with, the same way it happens with death and violence on the news and films.
As one of the interviewed witnesses in the film said (I don’t remember the quote exact but she said something about) during WWII, dead people in the street became something to deal with on an everyday basis and as a survival mechanism, you stop paying attention to them.
What I like about the movie is the presence of the witnesses and their interviews and how the director has placed them in a movie theater and played the movie Das Ghetto for them.
Meanwhile you as a viewer don’t see the movie playing, you just see them talking about it.
One of the strongest moments for me was when one of them talks about how she is glad that now that she is a human she can cry again. Another witness makes a comment on a flower showed in a clip before, saying: “When did you ever see a flower? We would have eaten a flower!”
So to sum it up, I still don’t know where I stand with this film. On one hand, I think I have seen too many documentaries about the Holocaust and probably got desensitized to the horror of it, but on the other hand the way Yael Hersonski uses the witnesses and the diaries of Adam Cherniakov, and to some extent the taped interview with Willy Wist, really moved me.