A Film Unfinished is a searing look at Nazi propaganda.
A FILM UNFINISHED (Yael Hersonski). 89 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens today (Thursday, September 23) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. See Times. Rating: NNNN
There are literally dozens of documentaries about the Warsaw Ghetto, but A Film Unfinished is unique in a very horrible way. The bulk of the footage in Yael Hersonski's searing exploration of image-craft and cultural memory comes from a Nazi propaganda film shot in May 1942.
As Hersonski demonstrates through archival testimony, interviews with survivors and the invaluable diaries of a ghetto resident, the German film crew commandeered the locals into performing in staged scenes designed to depict them as alien and unknowable. Circumcisions and ritual baths were filmed in harsh light; beggar children wander busy streets dressed in rags. In one sequence, well-dressed, healthy Jews are shown eating large meals in restaurants while ignoring their starving neighbours outside.
The project was never completed, for reasons that remain unknown. Perhaps someone realized that with the ghetto's residents scheduled to be shipped off to Treblinka in three months, there was no need to persuade good Aryans why the Warsaw Jews needed to be exterminated. But the raw footage survived, a compelling, repugnant product of the Nazi propaganda machine. Hersonski's witnesses place it in the appropriate horrific context, but the images speak loudly enough for themselves.