Thursday 6 November 2014

Week Seven: Personal and Collective Historical Challenges

A screen shot from Repentance
The day after the funeral of Varlam Aravidze, the mayor of a small Georgian town, his corpse turns up in his son's garden and is secretly reburied. But the corpse keeps returning, and the police eventually capture a local woman, who is accused of digging it up. She says that Varlam should never be laid to rest because he was responsible for a Stalin-like reign of terror that led to the disappearance of many of her friends. Although the film may appear to be slowing moving for North American reviewers, it is worth your patience as there are some very powerful surrealistic images that convey the horror of Stalinism. Also worth noting is how the son of Varlam justifies his father's activities while the grandson is furious.

Hitler’s Children "is a unique documentary film that reveals, for the first time, the ways in which family members of high rank senior Nazi officers from Hitler’s inner circle struggle with the burden of carrying a terror-inducing surname. During detailed interviews, families such as Goering, Himmler, Hoess amongst others, share the feelings of guilt and responsibility that accompany them in their daily lives.

During his detailed and intensive research, director and producer, Chanoch Ze’evi, third generation of Holocaust survivors, was able to convince direct descendants’ of members of the Nazi regime to speak with him, thereby creating a in-depth and mesmerizing dialogue that tells the story of the Holocaust from a new and original vantage point. "

I have commented on this film in my review of Lore

"At age 98, director (Aron) Goldfinger's grandmother passed away, leaving him the task of clearing out the Tel Aviv flat that she and her husband shared for decades since immigrating from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Sifting through a dense mountain of photos, letters, files, and objects, Goldfinger begins to uncover clues that seem to point to a greater mystery and soon a complicated family history unfolds before his camera. What starts to take shape reflects nothing less than the troubled and taboo story of three generations of Germans - both Jewish and non-Jewish - trying to piece together the puzzle of their lives in the aftermath of the terrible events of World War II."

 For a thought-provoking review of this excellent with its uncomfortable moments see Mark Clamen's review  at


In The Lives of Others, a true believer who has devoted his life to ferreting out "dangerous" characters is thrown into a quandary when he investigates a man who poses no threat. It's 1984, and Capt. Gerd Wiesler is an agent of the Stasi, the East German Secret Police. Weisler carefully and dispassionately investigates people who might be deemed some sort of threat to the state. Shortly after Weisler's former classmate, Lt. Col. Grubitz, invites him to a theatrical piece by celebrated East German playwright Georg Dreyman, Minister Bruno Hempf informs Weisler that he suspects Dreyman of political dissidence, and wonders if this renowned patriot is all that he seems to be. As it turns out, Hempf has something of an ulterior motive for trying to pin something on Dreyman: a deep-seated infatuation with Christa-Maria Sieland, Dreyman's girlfriend. Nevertheless, Grubitz, who is anxious to further his career, appoints Weisler to spy on the gentleman with his help. Weisler plants listening devices in Dreyman's apartment and begins shadowing the writer. As Weisler monitors Dreyman's daily life, however (from a secret surveillance station in the gentleman's attic), he discovers the writer is one of the few East Germans who genuinely believes in his leaders. This changes over time, however, as Dreyman discovers that Christa-Maria is being blackmailed into a sexual relationship with Hempf, and one of Dreyman's friends, stage director Albert Jerska, is driven to suicide after himself being blackballed by the government. Dreyman's loyalty thus shifts away from the East German government, and he anonymously posts an anti-establishment piece in a major newspaper which rouses the fury of government officials. Meanwhile, Weisler becomes deeply emotionally drawn into the lives of Dreyman and Sieland, and becomes something of an anti-establishment figure himself, embracing freedom of thought and expression. One of the most powerful scenes is watching Weisler listening to Dreyman playing a moving piano piece after hearing about his friend’s suicide. The film raises the interesting question as to whether art can change people. 


A screen shot from Two Lives

"The anxious, melancholic drama Two Lives is the story of a woman caught up in the toxic backwash of long-ago events that exert a fearful grip on the present. Unholy forces shaped the double life of this woman, Katrine (Juliane Köhler). Happily married and living in Norway, she has a secret past that merges two of the darker chapters of 20th-century European history.

Beginning in the mid-1930s, the Nazi Lebensborn program to breed an Aryan “master race” produced thousands of children, many of them procreated by members of the German SS in casual encounters with blond, blue-eyed women deemed racially pure. Because Norwegians, with their Viking ancestors, were thought to be an especially hardy breed, they were considered ideal specimens. Once these women gave birth in occupied Norway, their children were often taken from them and reared in special orphanages in Germany. After World War II, the taint of Nazism caused the mothers and the Lebensborn children remaining in Norway to face harsh discrimination.

Starting in the 1960s, the Stasi, the East German secret police, recruited many of the grown-up progeny in East Germany as spies, sending them to Norway to be reunited with unsuspecting families. In some cases, the Stasi appropriated the identities of Lebensborn children and conferred them on East Germans trained in espionage before placing them with Norwegian families. Since many documents related to the program were destroyed, few records existed to attest to their identities as Lebensborn children."

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