Glaring witness: Film’s ongoing dilemma with the Holocaust

[from Ha’Aretz]

[Interesting position piece about Holocaust cinema]

Cinema is entertainment. This has been the thorny challenge for filmmakers who’ve chosen to grapple with the subject of the Holocaust, and the reason why, from ‘Kapò’ to ‘Schindler’s List,’ most of their attempts have failed.

The Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo is best remembered for two powerful films, “The Battle of Algiers” (1966) and the Marlon Brando-starring “Burn!” (1969). But in 1960 he directed another very important film, called “Kapò.” It was important for two reasons: It was the first prestigious European movie set in a concentration camp; and the criticism written about it had a formative influence on film criticism ever since.

Pontecorvo’s film told the story of a Jewish girl (the American actress Susan Strasberg, who a few years earlier played the lead role in the original Broadway production of “The Diary of Anne Frank”). The girl is sent to Auschwitz with her parents. After they are killed, she tries every possible way to survive, including becoming a kapo.

The movie aroused controversy as soon as it was released. The few feature films before it that had dealt with the memory of the Holocaust – such as Edward Dmytryk’s “The Juggler” (1953), filmed in Israel and starring Kirk Douglas as a Holocaust survivor struggling to overcome the aftereffects of the war, or “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959) – did not depict life in the camps.

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