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The Film


View Count: 1
Last Viewed:2009.07.03
First/Last Reviewed:2009.07.05/2009.07.10

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ldh's review

As i was watching this movie, i grew more and more uncomfortable as the ending neared. And when the credits rolled, i was left with wondering what the hell the writer and director were trying to say. I personally found it borderline offensive. It's hard to discuss this film without talking about the ending, so if you don't want any spoiler, stop right here.

OK, still here? So let's look at this. The film starts with a wonderful innocent boy who is an explorer at heart. The world is full of wonders and surprises. When is father, an SS officer, is transferred to the countryside, the boy is initially unhappy of the move, but the explorer in him isn't abated for long, and he sneaks out one day to explore the forest nearby. One day, he comes across a large fence behind which a boy in pajamas is sitting, in the shade, seemingly enjoying the heat and taking some rest. Slowly though, we find that this is actually a concentration camp and that the boy is a Jewish prisoner. A friendship starts up between the two kids and one day, the German boy decides he wants to go inside the camp to see how it's like in there. The movie ends with the kid being mistakenly taken along with the prisoners to a gas chamber where he dies.

The last 10 minutes of the film are so painful, and unfortunately, not because of what is happening to the kid, but rather how it is put on film. The focus is entirely on the kid, with everything else, including his young Jewish friend, essentially in the background. This has a very pervert effect of rendering all the other victims transparent. The only thing we the audience are made to feel for in the highly over-dramatized moment is the circumstantial accident involving the boy. Add to that a very strong overly dramatic score, and the parents, including the SS officer father, screaming and crying about what's being done to their child. I personally found this moment very perverse as ultimately, it is true that the event is very traumatic: the child is completely innocent, and his parents are suffering a truly horrible moment as parents. Maybe the intent is to see how the perpetrators become victims of their own horrible machinery in a twist of fate, but the way it's writen and put on film is engineered to make you feel distraught, at the expense of anything else, being completely oblivious to the real horror happening on screen with hundreds of skeletal jews stripped bare and gased.

Another interpretation is maybe that a focus on the parents' real pain is a way to humanize an SS officer in charge of a death camp? That's all popycock though. The fallacy is often that monsters cannot be nice people, and vice versa. I am sure that at many occasions, Hitler was a very nice and pleasant person. I have known people in my life that are very nice on a personal basis, but with political ideals that are downright offensive and dangerous. Having a human side doesn't excuse horrible crimes. What does showing that a monster can have a human side bring to a narrative unless there is also conflict and some balance shown? Or maybe all it reminds us is to never trust appearances, that under a coat of civility can lie extreme barbarism? One can look at Germany this way, with a long history of cultural brilliance and refinement, only to be shown as nothing more than a thin veneer over a barbaric core that exploded during WW2. But again, i don't think that was at all the intent or the depth of reflection of the filmmakers.

There are also so many issues with the basic story. For example, do you imagine that two kids could play along the electrified fense of a death camp, in the afternoon, in plain daylight, without any soldier noticing them? And could a german kid, in very good health, with a full head of hair, walk unnoticed by the soldiers coralling the Jews to the gas chamber? And i found it strange too that the Jewish boy seemed like the only kids in the camp. It all amounts to a very suspicious setup for a dubious conclusion.

If you want to see a really deep movie about the Holocaust that really put something new on the table, give the Hungarian film Fateless (2005) a try. This is a complex movie, with complex characters and situations, that looks at the holocaust in a truly different way.

- Laurent Hasson