‘The biggest crime imaginable is being discussed officially, that’s what makes this film so impressive’


Image from Die Wannsee Konferenz.

Bor, we’re discussing three films about World War II this week. Which one do we start with, and why?

‘I can’t help but start with The Wannsee Conference, a feature film about the historic meeting in which the murder of 11 million European Jews is being prepared. Fifteen men, including Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich and SS man Adolf Eichmann, gathered in 1942 to put Hitler’s wish – the ‘Final Solution’ of the Jews – into a plan.

‘What makes the film so strong is its sober approach: no film music, no flashy editing and not that one character in whom you could recognize an even ‘better’ German. The kind of person with whom you, as a viewer, sympathize more easily.

‘The film is based on the reports of the real meeting. Director Matti Geschonneck told colleague Pauline Kleijer that he wanted to stay away from the cliché image of the noisy, screaming Nazis. That’s an image we’re familiar with from previous movies, and it’s also similar to what some of those Nazis sounded like when they were speaking in front of a crowd. But that does not mean that they also conversed among themselves. Here we see them simply as apparently civilized people planning a genocide. That’s what makes The Wannsee Conference confrontational: the greatest crime imaginable is discussed in a neat, official manner. ‘A frighteningly convincing picture of the machinations of fascism’, writes Pauline in her review.’

How are those atrocities connected to your next movie tip, Three Minutes: A Lengthening

Three Minutes: A Lengthening is a film essay by journalist and writer Bianca Stigter, in which she zooms in on a three-minute amateur film from 1938. It is the only existing moving image of the Jewish community in the Polish town of Nasielsk. What is immediately noticeable is how cheerful and lively the images are; young and old look at the camera with a smile, jostling each other to get into the picture. Stigter thought: could I stretch the few images of a community that is completely wiped out a year later, so that we stay just a little longer in the past?

‘Stigter pulls out all the stops: she slows down the film, rewinds, and highlights individual faces. She also spoke to one of the few survivors, a now 97-year-old man who was recognized by a granddaughter on a video. It’s also a kind of scavenger hunt: Stigter even used lip readers to find out what some people are saying in the silent images. She also tries with a Polish researcher to find out what is written on the sign above a Jewish shop – everything to find out just a little more. The special thing about Three Minutes is that as a viewer you gradually discover the documentary more and more in those three minutes, but you also become aware of how little there is left of this Jewish community.’

Finally: the remarkable Where is Anne Frank

‘Yes, director Ari Folman made a beautiful, unorthodox and at times somewhat emphatically didactic animated film of Anne Frank’s diary. He brings Kitty, whom Anne addressed in her diary, to life – an imaginary friend who swirls from the pages. A great find, because with it Folman creates an extra narrator of Anne’s story. The idea lends itself perfectly to animation. The drawn Nazis also look good: really nasty and threatening.

Where is Anne Frank plays in the present as well as in the past. We see Anne in wartime, how she is forced to go into hiding in the Secret Annex, at the same time Folman shows a wandering Kitty in modern-day Amsterdam, where the girl tries to find out what happened to Anne. Folman has put that Amsterdam in a different light: citizens are extremely cold against refugees, asylum seekers live on the streets. With this he seems to want to say emphatically: what happened then seems to be happening again now.

‘Sometimes it feels a bit forced. As Berend Jan Bockting writes in his review: ‘These refugees seem to have signed up at the last minute. They look like extras.’ Nevertheless, Folman manages to film a book about which a lot has already been said and written in a new way, without losing sight of the core of Anne’s personal history.’

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