A Film Unfinished (2011)

Written & Directed by Yael Hersonski

All around the world there lay pieces of films that have been left unfinished. I am sure of it, even if I have no evidence to support my theory. But I also am confident that none of those films are as fascinating as the film titled “The Ghetto”, which lay in a concrete vault in the middle of the woods until it was finally discovered and viewed. However, those other films also do not have writer/director Yael Hersonski’s talents to supplement the material in the form of the documentary A Film Unfinished.

During Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the surrounding lands, the propaganda department of the Third Reich was extremely active and it took full advantage of the allure of the motion picture to the people of Germany. Propaganda films released by Nazi Germany are notorious for their extreme views, as well as their careful construction. In Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds, he even pays tribute to the likes of Leni Riefanstahl’s Triumph of the Will with a film within a film, the fictitious “Nation’s Pride”. So when a partial film was unearthed depicting everyday life in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, it spikes curiosity as to why the film was never completed. But it also raises such questions as how documentary films are constructed and how much truth actually exists.

In A Film Unfinished, director Hersonski examines the film that was found and invites survivors of the Warsaw ghetto to view the film and reflect on what they see and what they remember. This tactic may be seen by some as being manipulative, but when you are talking about ghettoes and the Holocaust, who better to talk to than people with first-hand experience? Hersonski also investigates the work of one of the cameramen, Willy Wist, through a transcript of a war crime trial in which he testified.

The beginning of the film is a bit sluggish and uninteresting as the film was just digging in, but once the narration faded to the great interviews and footage of this film, it became much more engaging. I cannot help but think that at the end of the day I enjoyed this film as much as I did based simply on the topic of the film. Anything to do with the Third Reich and the Holocaust is immensely fascinating to me because it is the most recent event in human history that I cannot fathom actually being allowed to happen to the extent at which it did. And I am not denying it at all as some chemically unbalanced theorists might suggest. On the contrary I firmly believe it happened and that is what is so unbelievable.

Hersonski adds a great touch in what is her first feature film, presenting the material in the most interesting way possible. It made me think about the film industry in Nazi Germany and the power of film to be a persuasive argument as the filmmakers fabricated scenes to say what they wanted communicated instead of capturing the truth of the situation. It is a scary thing to think about, but it also made me think of contemporary documentary films and how much these films also do this. Not knowing the history, which was well researched by Hersonski here when she cited journals and trial transcripts as well as first-hand accounts, it is impossible to decipher the truth from lies. Even in this film, the viewer must trust the filmmaker is telling the truth. A Film Unfinished may not be the best or most important documentary on the Third Reich and all things related, but it does tell a good story with some real people and real footage of an era of Human history that many would like to forget, but none of us can ever escape.

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