New York Times film critic Jeannette Catsoulis reviews “A Film Unfinished,” an analysis of the unfinished Nazi Propaganda “Das Ghetto” revealing “vivid insight into the restrictions of daily life and the methods of the Nazi filmmakers:”
“A Film Unfinished” is really an exploration of watching — or, more precisely, of the difference between watching and seeing. Nowhere is this more evident than in the director’s decision to invite five survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto to view the original footage and to film their reactions.
“What if I see someone I know?” one woman asks, hardly daring to look. As the flickering atrocities play across the survivors’ faces — one film observing another — Ms. Hersonski silently creates space for memories. More than just valuable reality checks (“When did you ever see a flower? We would have eaten a flower!”), these recollections anchor the past to the present, and the images to human experience, in a way that shifts our perception of the Warsaw film. Whether cringing at the sight of naked men and women being forced at gunpoint into a ritual bath, or contemptuously dismissing the Nazis’ efforts to highlight Jewish privilege (“My mother wore her beautiful coat, and sometimes a hat. So what?”), the survivors seem to speak for those who cannot.
Moving, mysterious and intellectually provocative, “A Film Unfinished” positions familiar Holocaust horrors (the R rating was unsuccessfully contested) within a philosophical commentary on the way we view images. Perfectly pitched narration (by the Israeli musician Rona Kenan) fills in crevices in the visual record, but the most eloquent testimonies are delivered by those who are mute: starving Jews gazing uncomprehendingly at the Nazi cameras, and a lovely young woman squirming with discomfort as she is forced to pose alongside a beggar.