06 August 2010


Donika Pemova for DokuDaily
Movie Review
A Film Unfinished, Israel, Yael Hersonski, 89'
International Documentary Competition
Friday, 06.08, 20:15 slot – Kino ne Kala
Screened after Six Weeks (18')

In documentary filmmaking the editor's work is much more important than any other type of film production. This movie specifically is all about the editing. Most of “A Film Unfinished” is archive footage from a film that the Nazis shot in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, but never completed. So we ask the question, what was this movie going to be, why was it shot, what was it in itself?

“A Film Unfinished” is not an easy movie to watch. You will find there all the scenes of an unbearable, brutal life of starvation, humiliation, and pain that the Warsaw Ghetto was host to. But one thing is special about this movie. The filmmaking technique used and the documentary storytelling style doesn't allow you to react to the gruesome footage the way you might have been reacting so far to any movie that shows the horrors of The Holocaust. “A Film Unfinished” is based on rationality, argument, and a step-by-step investigation, much more than it is based on emotion, feelings, and manipulation. When you do see it, you will be amazed at how in one hour and a half we get a systematic, clear, and understandable story about something that can otherwise only produce the effect of shock and revolt if watched without proper guidance. This is all possible only because of evidently brilliant communication and coordination between an editor and a director. Whether this was truly the case, you can ask editor JoĆ«lle Alexis. She is visiting Prizren this year.

Alexis's work should be congratulated. The movie also won Best Editing Award at the Sundance Film Festival. We do not often get the chance to truly explore (not just skim through) long archive footage from over 65 years ago. We get that chance with “A Film Unfinished” because three things reign over this movie: details, details, details. Scenes are repeated and each of the following times we get additional information – both visual and through the narrator. But the narrator does not explain more than what the carefully edited footage shows us. “A Film Unfinished” is actually made in such a way that the viewer can read the visual part without any need for specialized visual literacy on his/her part. In this age of information where information flows from everywhere and all the time, “A Film Unfinished” is a good lesson in how to be very careful about where and how we get our information from.

While we congratulate “A Film Unfinished” as a very well done movie, we also need to thank its whole production team. It is a true compliment to the viewer when a movie is made with so much care and precision. The least we can do is watch it attentively.

It is easy to make a film about The Holocaust. As cruel as that may sound – it is true. It is easy to put together shots of dead starved people in mass graves, of policemen dispersing a crowd, of miserable human beings on the street, and of anything that will make you feel sick. Many have done it, and many have used archive footage from the horrors of The Holocaust solely to show them as the horrors of The Holocaust. Many have used any archive footage without explaining to the modern viewer what they are really seeing. In that sense it is difficult to go deeper, to do much more than to show. It is difficult to analyse and to search for the truth in a number of film rolls of footage without sound and colour.

“A Film Unfinished” is not an easy movie to watch. But what it holds at its heart is a true treasure. Few historic documentary films have so much to offer to their precious viewers.

Rating: 9/10

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