Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Condemned to Remember

 

Sean O’Rourke reviews Gerry Gregg’s Condemned to Remember, in which Irish Holocaust Survivor Tomi Reichental celebrates his 80th birthday in a Dublin Mosque and embarks on epic journey across a Europe in turmoil.

Condemned to Remember is a documentary by frequent collaborators Gerry Gregg and Tomi Reichental which discusses the rise of modern, neo-fascist movements throughout Europe. This unfortunately prescient topic is given a wrenchingly personal touch by the latter collaborator: Reichental, a holocaust survivor. Born in Czechoslovakia to a Jewish family, he and his loved ones were sold to the Germans by their government, just as had been done to many other Czechoslovakian Jews, and he was forced into the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The movie opens with Reichental, on his 80th birthday in Dublin where he has been invited celebrate Ramadan in a local mosque.

He is immediately disarming, joking as he is readying for his visit that there are few Holocaust survivors celebrating their 80th birthday in a mosque. Even in parts of the film that touch on the darkest moments human history has to offer, Tomi remains a bright, hopeful presence.

However, while the visit to the mosque was playing out, the film took a detour to explore the ongoing legal proceedings against a former SS guard present on a forced death march Tomi described in an earlier film. The film simultaneously starts to set up its examination of current neo-fascist movements in Europe without initially making any important thematic links between this, the mosque visit, and the German legal suit. As I watched this unfold, it seemed to me that the film lacked focus and it felt a waste to cut back and forth between these various proceedings if no greater point about their connections were to be made. The film even started to seem too eager to get to its next big moment, such that the editing often felt too fast. Rather than lingering on moments of human connection between, for example, Tomi and the granddaughter of a Nazi, it instead cut the scene to only its essential soundbites, then moved on before the humanity of these two people, miraculously occupying the same space, could really come through. In these early moments, I thought the film might be squandering its best intentions in an attempt to cover too much ground too quickly.

What relief it was for me then, to find the movie really come together as Tomi went further in his European journey. The film’s stated goal is to prevent genocides like the Holocaust from reoccurring and it does so by reclaiming the past from any complacency that moniker, “past,” might possess. As the film delves deeper into contemporary European political figures, such as Slovakia’s Marian Kotleba, whose rhetoric would not have seemed out of place in 1940s Germany (nor indeed in a massive nationalist Polish demonstration earlier this month), Reichental’s recounting of his experiences in the Holocaust do not just seem a recounting of past events, but as vital experiences that must be used to fight against those who would have them repeated.

The film also gives itself more room to breathe as it goes on and, in these moments, the film has a real poetry to it. Moments of connection, of Tomi looking into the eyes of those who have survived more recent genocides, serve the film’s central goal well and, in moments where the camera lingers on Tomi’s face as he reflects on what’s before him, we are allowed to form an intimate human connection with him, a connection that is made all the more important by a theme the movie brings home again and again: that there will be a day in the near future when there will be no more Holocaust survivors, when this direct link to that historical moment is severed. In its moments of greatest humanity, of Tomi walking down a dirt road with a Syrian refugee, or standing at the spot where his childhood home used to stand, that the film’s poetic power is brought to bear on its audience. These moments preserve the humanity of a man like Tomi powerfully, and assert the importance of such preservation.

The film is at its best when it generates that sense of immediacy in its discussion of the past with the present. Despite a certain formal conventionality, the film remains a powerful reminder of the horrors that human beings commit again and again right up to the present day. Indeed, as Tomi visits the spot of his childhood home, long since gone, its foundations buried under bush and weed, as Tomi stands in the corner of the frame, describing life there as a child, building a mental image for us that might fill the rest of the frame if we listen well, saying over and over that it is gone, and yet still feels like home, one sees the words of William Faulkner (by way of Tomi) ring true: “The past is never dead. It is not even past.” Gregg and his team capture something truly special here: the horror and the beauty of Tomi’s past, a past that carries great relevance in a world that often bears, as Gregg shows through powerful juxtaposition between Tomi’s remembrances and footage of modern-day Europe, uncomfortable relevance to the world just prior to the horrors visited on Tomi. Aside from a start that lacks focus and an occasional reluctance to let powerful scenes breath, the film manages to make its importance known, to pull the past into an uncertain present, and display for us the humanity of a man whose experience deserves our attention and prompts our action.

 

Condemned to Remember screened on 12th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

In Irish cinemas 3rd November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Gerry Gregg, Director of ‘Condemned to Remember’

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Gerry Gregg, Director of ‘Condemned to Remember’

Tomi Reichental and Condemned to Remember director Gerry Gregg 

 

June Butler talks to director Gerry Gregg about his film Condemned to Remember in which Irish Holocaust Survivor Tomi Reichental celebrates his 80th birthday in a Dublin Mosque and embarks on an epic journey across a Europe in turmoil.

 

 

Condemned to Remember screened at the IFI and is currently screening in Dundrum and will screen at the Cork Film Festival  on Sun 12th at 6.45pm with a post-screening Q&A with Tomi Reichental and Gerry Gregg.

Eclipse Pictures are organising school screenings across the country. Contact siobhan@eclipsepictures.ie for further information.

www.condemnedtoremember.ie

 

 

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Close to Evil: Extended Cut – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Stephen Totterdell takes a look at the extended cut of Gerry Gregg’s award-winning documentary, Close to Evil, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Cognitive Dissonance. Is there any psychological process that has caused more trouble in the world? But the cognitive dissonance on display in Close to Evil allows us insight into how atrocities can occur, and how they occur again. Tomi, a Bergen-Belsen survivor who arrived in Dublin in the late 1950s, decides to seek out one of the last remaining SS officers from the camp. He doesn’t want to confront or accuse. Rather he wants the SS officer to show remorse, and to shake her hand in the spirit of reconciliation. Hilde Lisiewicz served as an officer in Bergen-Belsen while in her early 20s, and went on to put it behind her and live a normal life.

It’s the smile that does it. The “chit-chat”, as one interviewee puts it. We expect a former Nazi to show remorse, or to have become embittered, or to live a punishing life. But Hilde smiles, says she doesn’t remember much, she liked the uniforms, would you like a sandwich? It’s the banality of evil, and is something German cinema has dealt with repeatedly. The recent Austrian film Michael analysed it: that film tells of an unassuming office worker who returns home in the evening to a child he has locked in his basement. It’s the stories about Hilter being a vegetarian. We expect a monster. When these people turn out to be human it causes what Julia Kristeva calls ‘abjection’. We see a part of our own identity become vulnerable; the border between us and these monstrous figures is blurred, and we react with disgust.

That Hilde can’t acknowledge her own history of atrocity speaks to a wider human condition. What would happen if she had acknowledged it sooner, or at all? Is it possible to acknowledge being a part of such a thing without finding some excuse, some reason that you weren’t really a part of it? Such a realisation would surely end in suicide. Hilde seems so assured of her innocence that she brought her children to visit Bergen-Belsen, telling them that she worked as a chef in the camp. But why did she lie about her job there?

It’s the kind of mentality that reminds us never to take the world for granted, that our powers for self-justification are endless. Look at those arguing for unjust wars abroad, look at the situation with Israel and Palestine. Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle comes into it. In a way, people find comfort in putting the Holocaust in the past; in saying there, that’s where the evil is. In looking at the horrific footage available. It existed, and it was terrible, but it was in the past where it can’t get us. Like Kristeva’s abjection, an acknowledgment that this kind of atrocity could still happen; that does still happen; that we could all be in some way complicit in something or other, would threaten our sense of identity too much. So we put it in the past, and we wonder how the Germans of the 1940s could have let such things happen.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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Close To Evil: Extended Cut – Preview of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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The 26th Galway Film Fleadh (8 – 13 July, 2014)

Close To Evil: Extended Cut

Fri 11th July

Cinemobile

10.00

The extended cut of the award-winning documentary, Close to Evil, will screen as part of the 26th annual Galway Film Fleadh. A ‘work in progress’ version of the film received acclaim when it screened as part of last year’s fleadh, getting a runner-up spot for Best Irish Feature Documentary. Director Gerry Gregg will now return to the Fleadh with an extended cut complete with extra footage.

Close to Evil follows Tomi Reichental, one of two surviving Holocaust victims living in Ireland, on a quest to find one of the SS guards who kept him captive. Director Gerry Gregg told Film Ireland that  “I want to sincerely thank Miriam Allen and Gar O’Brien for encouraging us to finish the film and for endorsing what we have made by screening the extended cut in Galway this year. From the outset when Miriam and Gar saw an early rough cut they supported us.

“Last year’s success at Galway greatly helped us and made life a bit easier for our champion in RTÉ Colm O’Callaghan. It was Colm, our RTÉ Executive Producer who stepped into the breach when the Film Board surprisingly declined to back the project.  It was Colm who made sure that we kept going, put us back on location when and where it mattered and oversaw a film that none of us involved could have foreseen how it would end.”

Director Gerry Gregg gives Film Ireland the background to the new extended cut of his film Close to Evil here.

Tickets are available to book from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 569777, or at www.tht.ie.

 

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Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh preview: Close to Evil

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The 25th Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July, 2013)

Close to Evil

Saturday, 13th July

Cinemobile

16.00

Gerry Gregg’s 2008 documentary Till the Tenth Generation followed Tomi Reichental, one of two surviving Holocaust victims living in Ireland, as he returned to Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp to face the horrors of his past. Five years later, Gerry Gregg’s sequel, Close to Evil, follow’s Tomi’s quest to find one of the SS guards who kept him captive, and will premiere this Saturday at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh.

Gerry Gregg told Film Ireland, ‘The occasion of a ‘World Premiere’ at the Galway Film Fleadh allows us to demonstrate that strong stories can be told when a group of dedicated film makers get together and make something worthwhile that will stand the test of time. When that deeply satisfying and exciting moment will come to pass next Saturday afternoon, when the lights fade in the Cinemobile and the first images flash on the screen, regardless of what happens afterwards, we will have delivered on our promise to Tomi’.

In 1945, Tomi Reichental was nine years old and starving to death in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where 35 members of his family lost their lives. Close to Evil follows him in his quest to shake the hand of Hilde Lisiewicz, who was one of the SS guards kept Tomi and his family captive. Along the way he reveals a dark secret that Hilde has long kept hidden.

Tickets are available to book from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 569777, or at www.tht.ie.

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