WHO WILL WRITE OUR HISTORY – movie review

WHO WILL WRITE OUR HISTORY
Abramorama
Reviewed for Shockya.com and BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Roberta Grossman
Screenwriter: Roberta Grossman, Samuel Kassow from Kassow’s book “Who Will Write Our History? Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto”
Cast: Jowitz Budnik, Piotr Glowacki, Piotr Jankowski, Wojciech Zielinski, Karolina Gruzka, Bartlomiej Kotschedoff, Gera Sandler
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/1/19
Opens: January 18, 2019

Who Will Write Our History Large Poster

We in the U.S. are living now in a time that the printed word has been downgraded, where texting and sexting are the language of youth, and where the New York Times is denigrated by our country’s chief office holder as “failing” and full of “fake news.” How refreshing it is, then, that a film and the book from which it is adapted honors the word, whether in English, or Yiddish, or Hebrew or Polish. “Who Will Write our History” commemorates and even idolizes a few remarkable people shut inside the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi conquest of Poland who dedicated the rest of their brief, remaining lives to writing an archive of material. The material, mostly of the printed word, includes some pictures, so that people in London could be made aware of the delivering of Polish Jewish into a gated neighborhood ghetto followed by their mass murder. The sixty thousand pages of first-person testimony were buried after the ghetto and, indeed, much of the entire city was burned to the ground and found only recently by groups of workers with some documentation presumably buried under the Chinese Embassy in Poland’s capital.

Using archival film taken mostly by Nazis who, by photographing Jews wasting away with starvation and afflicted with lice and disease, employed the films as propaganda to show the world that the Jews are filthy and lice-infected—as though the heartless conquering people had nothing to do with their miserable and desperate condition. The source material, from Samuel Kassow’s book “Who Will Write our History,” cannot be faulted as the author, who lectures on Russian and Jewish history, received a commentary from the New Republic magazine “May be the most important book about history that anyone will ever read.” (Available from Amazon for $17.04.)

The documentary mixes in contemporary footage in full color as actors taking the parts of journalists, scholars and community leaders who go about their secret work of writing voluminous accounts of the greatest crime of the last century. Emanuel Ringelblum was the leader of the group, a historian who gave the project the code name of Oyneg Shabes, determined to puncture German lies with the pen while lacking the sword—at least until the uprising of those Jews remaining in the ghetto on April 19, 1943.

The project is directed, written and produced by Roberta Grossman, whose passion for social justice is easily understood by looking at her previous works. “Seeing Allred,” which she co-directed, takes on the recent testimony of sexual assaults, while her “Hava Nagila” is a virtual travelogue of the famous Jewish song. For this film she employs the voice of Joan Allen, whose narrative offerings include “Rickover: the Birth of Nuclear Power” Catherine Senesh from a movie about Hannah Senesh, who was captured by the Nazis while trying to rescue Jews during the war. Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, narrator Adrien Brody used his narrative voice in the past as the mouse in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Focusing on the story of Emanuel Ringelblum and his Oyneg Shabes archive, writer-director Grossman honors the determination of writers to become eyewitnesses to the destructive criminality of the Nazis, indicting the Jewish police as well for their desire to save their lives by treating other Jews with the same brutality as the Germans. What emerges from the writings is not simply a narrative history, as the sixty writers also knocked

out diaries, essays, jokes, poems and songs. Most significant is that they depict the Jews from the Jewish point of view so the world should see German propaganda as little more than the lies of a craven people.

This is a major piece of documentary filmmaking, the scholars and filmmakers working for six months to prepare the actual shooting, while the words spoken by the actors are the very words that emerge from the printed material. In 1999 three document collections from Poland were included by UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register: the works of Chopin (ironically enough considering the composer’s virulent anti-Semitism), the works of Copernicus, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive.

Some may argue that the special effects and reenactments threaten the veracity of the material but Grossman makes sure that every word spoken in the recreations, every emotion, boldly supplements the amazing collection of archival celluloid, much of which I for one had never seen before despite my aim to see every film made that tries to make sense of the Holocaust.

95 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – A
Overall – A-

THE PIRATES OF SOMALIA – movie review

  • THE PIRATES OF SOMALIA

    SP Releasing
    Director:  Bryan Buckley
    Screenwriter:  Bryan Buckley, adapting Jay Badahur’s book “The Pirates of Somalia”
    Cast:  Evan Peters, Barkhad Abdi, Sabrina Hassan Abdulle, Mohamed Barre, Mohamed Abdikadir, Al Pacino, Melanie Griffith
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/15/17
    Opens: December 8, 2017

    1. Image result for the pirates of somalia poster


    Never give up, the theme of so many optimistic movies, is the overriding concept in Bryan Buckley’s fictionalized biopic of best-selling author Jay Badahur.  Badahur, who has no experience as a journalist and no major in the subject graduates from college in 2007, a time that America and Canada are undergoing the worst depression since the more famous one of the twenties and thirties.  With the cojones of someone who realizes that the only way to get out of his parents’ basement is to do something that nobody else is willing to do, he opts to go to Somalia, do some interviews, and even get on board a German ship that is being held by pirates.  What he discovers in that East African country, with which America had no diplomatic relations for twenty years, changes the course of history and propels the Canadian author’s study onto the New York Times best-seller list.

    Naturally Jay’s parents, Kailash (Alok Tawari) and Maria (Melanie Griffith) think their boy has gone nuts and beg him to give up the fantasy.  But after working a marketing job that has him interviewing supermarket personnel to discover the best shelf to situate napkins gives the lad enough motivation to cut out and do something worthwhile.  When he meets the eccentric writer Seymour Tolbin (Al Pacino) and gets the advice that only the elderly in their wondrous wisdom can give, he is determined to make the trip, which will take him first to Frankfort and then to a bevy of connecting flights to the coastal town where a German ship is being held for ransom.

    You’d think that the pirates, whom he interviews, will either kill him or hold him for ransom, but no: instead he learns that foreign imperialists destroyed a pirate group’s lobster fishing business, forcing them to go the illegal route, and further, these folks are considered Robin Hoods as they distribute their ransom wealth to the people.  Somalia, Badahur wants the world to know, is a fledgling democracy where power changed hands without a shot’s being fired even though a minority person is chosen president by eighty votes.

    To get information for his book, he befriends a number of people, some who speak surprisingly good English.  His tour guide and translator, Abdi (Barkhad Abdi), whom cinephiles will quickly recognize from his role in “Captain Phillips” and “Eye in the Sky,” is on a buddy-buddy basis with the Canadian, and so are the local children who think he’s cool.  Best of all, Maryan (Sabrina Hassan Abdulle), the wife of the leader of the pirates, speaks fluent English and presumably unlike other modestly dressed women has no trouble making eye contact with Badahur, even showing up in his room. (Could that possibly be true?  The wife of a pirate?)

    Badahur makes notes in a memo book, taping some interviews, and filming here and there while occasionally facing menacing people who train their machine guns on him until the translator gets him accepted by all.  So, everyone in Somalia is friendly, the country is plagued by pirates only because foreign companies wiped out their sources of income, and Badahur returns to advice the U.S. government to pull its warships out of Somali waters.  A fine job by Evan Peters, known here for a smaller role in Brian Singer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” while Oscar-nominated director Bryan Buckley, who probably made a lot more money filming some 50 Super Bowl commercials, chalks up a movie that is still under the radar after its December 8, 2017 opening.

    Rated R.  117 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Story – B
    Acting – B+
    Technical – B
    Overall – B