Film: A Film Unfinished
Writer/Director: Yael Hersonski
Genre: Documentary, Warsaw Ghetto (2010), multiple languages
In brief: An underground vault is where a partially edited WWII propaganda film, Das Ghetto was first found. The discovery 4 decades later of a reel of outtakes prompted Israeli filmmaker, Yael Hersonski, to reexamine the film and try to give it context.
The ghetto is the Warsaw Ghetto, and the film was shot during May 1942… just 2 months before the deportations to Treblinka. But at the time of the filming, few had any idea that the situation could get even more dire. For 2½ years, the 3-square-mile area housed over a half million Jews, not just from Warsaw but also refugees from all over Europe. Space was so limited that each family was compressed into just a single room, most without water, sanitation or other “luxuries.” Food of any kind was painfully inadequate, but meat could be gotten only on the black market… with just a handful being able to afford black-market goods.
But this is not the impression one gets watching Das Ghetto. We now have proof that many scenes depicting wealthier Jews enjoying lovely lunches, for example, were staged… as were the scenes showing wealthier Jews callously walking past starving refugees or corpses in the streets. It’s only speculation trying to guess about the propaganda mission of the film. But it’s now evident that the scenes depicting relatively well dressed, well fed Jews enjoying the good life were staged… while the scenes showing starvation and death didn’t need to be staged. The film, along with the outtakes, is possibly the best documentation of ghetto life we now have… despite the obvious attempts to alter the impression.
Together with interviews from survivors and a Nazi cameraman, plus excerpts from journals and official reports, we can watch the footage from Das Ghetto with deeper understanding. If you’re looking for an entertaining diversion, this film isn’t it. It’s extremely well done with little attempt to editorialize… beyond the obvious. The footage is as horrible as any we’ve ever seen. But officially, the Warsaw Ghetto wasn’t a death camp. The killing wasn’t systematic, as it was in Treblinka. It was accomplished by starvation and disease, a fact that’s well documented in this film. Ultimately, it’s not possible to “tell the untellable” but A Film Unfinished is a serious… one could even say scholarly… attempt.
4 popped kernels
Probably the most thorough view to date of life and death in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Any audience
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: In no hurry
Visual Style: Amateur video
Character Development: Not that kind of film
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative