A Film Unfinished (2010, Germany-Israel) had so much festival hype that when I couldn’t get my hands on a screener, I feverishly pre-ordered the film from Amazon – a practice I seldom initiate. When the handsomely designed DVD package arrived I watched it instantly, and as soon as the film ended, I decided the praise was inflated but not unworthy. An act of cinematic brilliance worthy of Best Picture I did not find, but, I was pleased to discover an engaging, gorgeous, poetic and inventive archival documentary full of mystery and awe. So, since today is the day the UN named International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I thought it was appropriate to choose A Film Unfinished for this week’s Friday Film Pick.
Yael Hersonski’s expertly reconfigured tale of behind-the-scenes Nazi propaganda is riveting and mesmerizing at the same time. There have been a clutch of archival docs making the rounds these days, and this film—which is almost entirely made up of discovered archival film of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942—is among the best. Hersonski sensibly avoids sentimentality and gushy melodrama to communicate the tragedies and terror of WWII and the Nazi Holocaust and instead delicately assembles one hour of outtakes from footage shot by Nazi propagandists, whose images would be used as “historical evidence” in later years, but become reinvigorated visual evidence in this talented filmmaker’s hands. The results are haunting and revelatory.