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Cinema Signal: An okay documentary exposing some staggering and mysterious Nazi footage.
. "A Film Unfinished"

Recently discovered archive footage found in a Berlin film vault is brought to the attention of those interested in Hitler's assault on the Jews in this documentary by writer-director Yael Hersonski. The four cans of film labeled by the German archivists, "Das Ghetto," comprise a sometimes staged/sometimes real document of how Jews lived and died in the Warsaw Ghetto of 1942 prior to their transfer to the Nazi death camp at Treblinka.

Hersonski unspools the Nazi footage with some guidance from a subtly impassioned narrator (since this voice is uncredited, perhaps it's hers), and the reactions of survivors of the Ghetto watching the footage in a screening room. These witnesses to the horrors occasionally recognize a person in the teaming Ghetto streets, and turn away or shut their eyes at sights of mass burials, evidence of Nazi inhumanity that makes for the most wrenching scenes for anyone to watch.

But while "A Film Unfinished" might be called a documentary within a documentary, the Nazi film is so raw and unformed that the Reich's purpose in making it remains undiscernable. Even a transcript of testimony by Sonderfuhrer Willy Wist, one of the cameramen who shot the footage, (staged adn spoken by an actor) would not shed light on the reason behind the assignment.

Though it seems clear that a claim of Nazi kindness and humanism might have been behind the project, there's evidence of an altogether different kind of reality that's recorded. There's degradation, death and staged scenes to show the elite life and cultural events enjoyed by a limited number of corraled detainees--as though to support the preposterous notion that the Ghetto offered luxurious living for a cross section of society.

This exposure of the long forgotten film project is, by turns, curious, uncomfortable and horrific. We are clearly in the demented mind of some propaganda minister who thought he could produce something useful in terms of deception and political propaganda. It's also a curious product of the Nazis' obsession with making and keeping records whose value is inestimable for historians and evidentiary in the perspective of the rest of the human world who can stand to look at it.

Hersonski, who is also an editor and producer in Israeli films, has done what could tastefully and academically be done with such staggering and mysterious material. It does not make for a light evening at the movies.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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