Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

11 June 2009

Holocaust Double Feature

Two Holocaust movies in the last couple of days. This was a coincidence, but it happened nonetheless. And... I didn't like either of them.

Stefan Ruzowitzky's film Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) actually won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film last year, and I have to say that I have no idea why other than that it is a film about World War II. The Counterfeiters isn't even a good movie. In fact, I found it rather irritating. The movie is about a Jewish counterfeiter who gets caught and sent to prison. When the Nazis begin sending Jews to concentration camps, they set up an operation in one of them where they force all of the Jewish men they can find who have experience in printing or forgery or banking to work at forging the British pound (and other jobs too, of course). The film is about how these men survive, and it is also sort of about the moral questions these men live with—they are treated really well by the Nazis but their fellow Jews are tortured and killed. Also, they save their own lives by forging the British Pound, but they are prolonging the German war effort.

The thing is, the film doesn't really have anything to say about these moral questions, and in any case the Allies come before anyone really has to make any serious decisions. And the ending of the film makes no sense at all, emotionally or narratively. Oh yeah, it's also shot in this bizarre documentary style with jump close-ups and an intrusive camera. None of these formal devices work for the movie; instead, they continually remind the viewer of the artificiality of the film, an artificiality which the viewer wouldn't be able to forget in any case given the tropes of Holocaust drama, with which we are all, by now, quite familiar.

Holocaust movie #2 was Edward Zwick's Defiance. Now, I have not been a fan of Ed Zwick for some time, and this film illustrates (once again) exactly why.

There actually isn't much to say about this movie. It's ridiculously sentimental. A melodrama from start to finish, it follows four brothers as they hide out in the forest from the Nazis. They also take care of some hundred or so (maybe there were more; I'm not quite sure because the film is really bad about keeping track of this information: sometimes you look at all the people and there seem to be two hundred, but at other times there are only about seventy-five). The stars of the film are compelling: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, and (the totally smoking hot) Mark Feuerstein, but the film is really boring. I saw every plot "twist" ten minutes before it showed up on screen. This includes all emotional twists. They were all obvious from the very beginning.

Defiance's politics are totally absurd, too. There is all of this debate about being "better than the Nazis" and "staying alive is our revenge." But all of this is bunkum. In typical Hollywood fashion, the film allows the men to debate about violence and decide against it, but when push comes to shove even the men in the nonviolence camp pick up their rifles and kill the bad guys.

I know we are not done watching Holocaust movies. I assume there will be another three or four every year, but I think I might be getting a little tired of them...