Berlin Film Festival features rare films about the Holocaust

In 2007, the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize was awarded to Israeli director Joseph Cedar for Beaufort. Soon as this report became public, the festival announced his would not be named on the award.

A scene from The Last Stage (photo credit: WFDIF/W. JAKUBOWSKA)
A scene from The Last Stage
(photo credit: WFDIF/W. JAKUBOWSKA)
The legacy of the Holocaust is always present in Germany, and the 70th Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival, which runs through March 1, is acknowledging that history with world premieres of the digitally restored versions of two feature films about Jews made just after World War II, along with other selections.
Earlier this year, the festival changed the name of its Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize, named for the festival’s founding director, following a report in the German newspaper Die Zeit revealing that Bauer had held a “high-ranking position” in the Nazi bureaucracy, a fact which had not been reported in the past. Die Zeit said that he had worked closely with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Bauer died in 1986 and the prize was named to honor him the following year.
This prize is given every year to a movie that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art.”
In 2007, the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize was awarded to Israeli director Joseph Cedar for Beaufort. As soon as this report became public, the festival announced his name would be taken off the award, which would then simply be called the Silver Bear.
Two rarely shown classics about the Holocaust, The Distant Journey and The Last Stage, have been digitally restored and were shown in screenings that elicited emotional reactions from audiences.
The 1949 film, The Distant Journey by Alfréd Radok, is a Czech movie about a young Jewish doctor, Hana, in Czechoslovakia, who marries her gentile colleague and is not sent to a concentration camp. But she is unable to save her parents from deportation to death camps, and the process by which they are persecuted and eventually sent to their deaths is shown in excruciating, nightmarish detail, interspersed with documentary footage.
The Distant Journey is a haunting and moving film, one that was filmed in an expressionistic style. It was shown in Czechoslovakia when it was first released and then was not shown again until the early ‘90s. The restoration was carried out by the Národní Filmový Archiv (the National Film Archive) in Prague, at Universal Productions Partners.
The Last Stage by Wanda Jakubowska is a 1948 Polish fiction film, with a strong documentary feel, about female inmates from many countries at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The drama was shot on location using non-professional actors from the area near the camp, and is based on testimonies of survivors. Each character speaks in her native language. The original negative did not survive, so a restoration was made through a complex process undertaken by Poland’s National Film Archive in cooperation with Tor Film Production.
More recent films about the Holocaust were also included in this year’s lineup. Vadim Perelman’s Persian Lessons, which premiered in the Berlinale Special section of the festival, divided audiences, some of whom enjoyed its intricate and often darkly comic plot, while others found it hopelessly contrived. It tells the story of a young Belgian Jew, Gilles (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), who saves himself from being killed by pretending to be a Farsi-speaking Iranian. He then has to teach a language he doesn’t know to a Nazi commander.
The new French documentary Golda Maria, also shown in Berlinale Special, is a tribute by film producer Patrick Sobelman to his mother, a concentration camp survivor, whom he interviewed in 1994 about her experiences. After her death, Sobelman realized that her story would resonate with a wide audience, and he edited it with his son, Hugo, a documentary filmmaker.
These films will likely be shown in Israel during the next year, either at film festivals or in theaters.