I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life & Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Nicole Kidman narrated this documentary about a very influential man–a humanitarian of all sorts–named Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor from the concentration camps who made it his life mission to hunt down Nazi criminals so that they would be forced to take responsibilities for the horrible things they’ve done and give justice to those who were murdered and the families that were affected. I decided to watch this film because I distinctly remember reading a review from a critic saying that Wiesenthal partly did what he did because he wanted to get revenge for the killings of about ninety families and relatives. After watching the movie, I must say that I cannot disagree more. I thought Wiesenthal’s decision to keep going despite the threats on his life and those of his family’s, the strain when it comes to his relationships with others, and the constant reminders of the terrible things that happened to him was nothing short of heroic. It’s not like Wiesenthal hunted the Nazis down and placed his own definition of justice upon them. No, he actually turned the criminals over to the government and it was up for them to decide what should be done to the Nazis. I hardly consider his actions as revenge because his main motivation is to simply express a collective grief so that people would ultimately be able to move on. How the movie painted the journey of a man on the verge of death due to starvation to a force that impacted the justice system all over the world was truly inspiring. I also loved how the documentary highlighted some of the most important war criminals that Wiesenthal caught, such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele. The fact that those scenes came hand-in-hand with some of rare footages of extremely emaciated Jewish people made me really angry and sad at the same time. Like I did in high school when we studied World War II, I questioned myself how people could have so much hate and actually act upon such negative emotions to the point of genocide. I still don’t have answers to the many questions I have about the psychology of the Nazis and maybe I never will. I thought this film was a great tribute to Simon Wiesenthal’s life. I think people should see this documentary because it would be nice to remember his many amazing achievements, which undoubtedly impacted our (and many other countries’) justice system.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
This film was told in the eyes of an eight-year-old boy named Bruno (Asa Butterfield) who likes to explore his surroundings and play with other children. One day, his family decides to move from Berlin to a remote place in Poland because his father (David Thewlis) is a Nazi soldier and he is promoted there by the higher ranks. Bruno, being unaware of the horrors that the Jews are going through, assumes that the concentration camp that he can see from his bedroom is a farm. He also takes notice of the people there and tells his mother (Vera Farmiga) that he thinks they are quite strange because they wear pajamas all day. As a young explorer, he eventually visits the concentration camp and meets another eight-year-old boy named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) and the two become friends. I liked that this picture was told from the eyes of young person who didn’t know anything about what was going on around him. While his mistaken assumptions were amusing at times, it was very sad in its core because little by little his innocence got stripped away. I liked the scenes when the private tutor would teach Bruno and his sister (Amber Beattie) how to think like Nazi and labeled Jewish people as “evil” (among other things). Such scenes showed two crucial reactions from the children: the sister’s total acceptance of the Nazi ways to the point where she started putting up clippings and posters on her wall; and Bruno’s as he tried to resist what he was being told by asking questions such as if there were nice Jewish people. Since this was aimed as a children’s story, it was important for me to see how Bruno processed the varying information that was being presented to him by his strict Nazi father, his mother who was having a breakdown after finding out a secret that her husband kept from her, his patriotic but ultimately deluded sister, and his Jewish friend who was clearly miserable. And I did see and feel his confusion and frustration about what people have told him and his own experiences. As for the ending, it completely took me by surprise. But I suppose the director (Mark Herman) did a good job building up the tension that led to the conclusion. This film provided a nice change from other Holocaust pictures. If the fact that all of the characters spoke in English instead of German does not bother you, this is a pretty good find.
District 9 (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Sometimes it’s a gift for a film to have a relatively low budget. If this had been another Hollywood-supported movie, it undoubtedly would have been another one of those forgettable special and visual effects-driven films where the aliens had one thing in mind: to destroy humankind. Instead “District 9,” directed by Neill Blomkamp, tried very hard to make up for its lack of budget by creating big ideas that reflect the important events happening in the world which, unfortunately, are being overlooked because Jon and Kate’s divorce are all over the glossy magazines. It also had to compensate by injecting ideas that have been done in other science fiction movies before and actually taking them to the next level. (Some movies that easily come to mind are the “Alien” franchise, “Robocop,” “Starship Troopers,” and even “Cloverfield,” only not as shaky.) Instead of a big introduction that involves an alien spacecraft landing on Earth as everyone panics or prays, the story started off with people offering commentary on how life changed after the spacecraft arrived on Earth years later: the aliens were malnourished, taken to concentration camp-like areas where living conditions were absolutely horrid, and bureaucrats, led by Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe, were pretty much forcing the extraterrestrials to sign some paperwork to agree to be moved to another location in order to mollify the anger of nearby human citizens. What started off as “fun” bullying ended up in a tragedy where Copley’s character was accidentally exposed to an extraterrestrial substance which began to change his outlook on humans and aliens through very dramatic means. I enjoyed the fact that the aliens were not the villains here. Instead, it was the humans who thirst for power by acquiring weapons and knowledge by any means necessary (including harming the innocent and throwing ethics out the window), readily able to engage in battle without even once putting in their best efforts to understand the other side, and readily able to turn against their own kind with the slightest sign of supposed disloyalty. I also admired the film’s use of perspective. Right from the first frame, the picture placed us in a certain perspective but as it went on, layers began to peel off (no pun intended) and we got to know more about the motivations of each character or group of people. With its brilliant premise (and viral campaigns), this is an unpredictable film with enough power, imagination, and heart to fill other summer blockbusters that lack such qualities. I can only hope that some of the unanswered questions and lingering plot holes will be answered in the sequel (if there is going to be one). “District 9” more than lives up to the hype.