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Movie Review: A Film Unfinished

Oscilloscope Laboratories, Rated R

There are times when one of the greatest challenges of reviewing a movie is to distinguish between the extraordinary value of the material at hand and the manner in which it’s conveyed. At the risk of confusing the message with the messenger, let’s just say that the title of the documentary A Film Unfinished may very well serve as its own critique.


A compilation of lost and found Holocaust footage derived from the Warsaw Ghetto and conceived as a propaganda tool by a Nazi military film crew, A Film Unfinished is at the same time astonishing and disappointing. At once a layered documentary intertwining two filmmaker perspectives at radical odds from opposing historical vantage points, the film revisits the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto genocidal victims, first as barely surviving human props ironically contributing to Nazi anti-Semitic spin, and then today in the hands of Israeli director Yael Hersonski, as indictment and blistering correction of the fraudulently scripted historical record.

Hersonski presents, through this silent footage, stark, brutal images of suffering, starvation and slow death on the Warsaw streets that speak for themselves and require no explanation. But when spliced together with period preconceived footage concocted by their Nazi captors to demonstrate how the victims’ more thriving and supposedly affluent Jewish counterparts (actually involuntary actors) are disdainfully ignoring the corpses on the streets—and therefore somehow responsible for their misery rather than the actual perpetrators— is inevitably shortchanged by Hersonski’s own contrasting passivity as a filmmaker.

In effect, here lies a woefully missed opportunity to describe history not as a series of insular events without implications, but rather lessons for humanity providing greater historical meaning and significance through the past, present and future continuum of time. And in considering Hersonski’s provocative, potent material as hermetic presentation and screen relics without their greater analysis or evaluation, what tribute are we paying to these emotionally scarred and eventually physically destroyed victims? Beyond a kind of unintentional voyeuristic snuff documentary and graphic scrutiny without wider scope of their anonymous pain—none. Where, for instance, are the portraits, or in the least a postscript, of not just mass acquiescence, but the courage of the nameless who refused and resisted against overwhelming odds, as during the historic Warsaw Ghetto Uprising?

Consequently, this revisiting of a shameful past lacks lessons to be learned or applied from filmmakers—whether then or now—in the absence of conscious conviction or applied principled inquiry in the present, whether it be Israel or countless other ethically questionable battlegrounds on this planet.

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