13 Holocaust Movies You Should See

I recently saw a list on which there were 100 Holocaust movies you need to watch. The number seemed slightly excessive. Maybe they counted each and every WWII movie in which there were Jewish people. No idea. I wouldn’t call a movie a Holocaust movie unless it focusses on Jewish life during WWII, either in ghettos, concentration camps or, like in Defiance as a Resistance group or on the run. Everything else is just a WWII movie.  I just watched Jakob the Liar which I will review soon and that gave me the idea to make a list of the 13 Holocaust movies I consider to be the best. My favourite of the movies below is The Round Up – La Rafle. If you think I missed one that is extremely good and should be added, let me know.

Holocaust (1978, TV mini-series US) The story of a Jewish family and their struggle to survive in Nazi Germany.

Sophie’s Choice (1982, UK/US) The horrible story of a Polish mother who has to make a terrible choice that will scar her for life.

Triumph of the Spirit (1989, US) The true story of box champion Salamo Arouch who survives Auschwitz. See my review

Schindler’s List (1993, US) The true story of the courageous man Schindler who saved a great number of Jews.

La vita è bella – Life is Beautiful (1997, Italy) An family of Italian Jews is deported to a concentration camp where the father pretends it’s all a game. See my review

Jakob the Liar (1999, US) Jakob Heym pretends to have a radio in the ghetto and makes up stories about the war going to end very soon. See my review

Anne Frank – The Whole Story (2001, TV mini-series US/ Czech Republic) The whole story of Anne Frank including her stay at the concentration camp.

The Grey Zone (2001, US) Story of Jews who work in the crematoria of Auschwitz.

The Pianist (2002, FR/PL/GE/UK) The true story of a Polish pianist who hid in the Warsaw ghetto.  See my review

Ghetto (2006, Germany/Lithuania) A sadistic Nazi commander rules over a ghetto in Lithuania.

Die Fälscher – The Counterfeiters (2007, AU/GE) True story of a famous Jewish counterfeiter who gets caught by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp where he should help forge foreign currency. See my review

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008, UK/US) Uncanny story of a boy who befriends a Jewish boy in a concentration camp not knowing that his father is in charge of that camp or what the camp is. See my review

The Round Up – La Rafle (2010, FR/GE/HU) In the night of July 16 1942, 13000 Parisian Jewsare arrested and confined in the Vel d’Hiv before being sent to Drancy and later exterminated in Auschwitz. True story. See my review

Have you seen them? Did you like them?

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Polanski’s The Pianist (2002)

Of all the Holocaust movies I have seen so far The Pianist is my favourite. It doesn’t concentrate on life in the camps but, based on a true account, it depicts the survival story of a famous Polish Jewish pianist and focuses on life in the Warsaw ghetto.

The movie begins before the Jews of Warsaw are sent to the ghetto. The situation for them gets worse daily. They are forbidden to enter certain restaurants, to sit on park benches, to keep their money or their shops. They receive far less food than the other Poles. They already struggle hard before they are all compressed into a confined area in the Warsaw ghetto. Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) who was a successful musician before the war, sees himself degraded, like so many others. Together with his parents, his brother and sisters they move from their nice roomy apartment into an old shabby one-bedroom place in the ghetto. To make a living they sell their books or smuggle stuff. They refuse to join the Polish police even though one of their friends has joined them and would help them to be accepted as well. Both brothers are of high moral integrity and nothing would make them betray their convictions.

When the day arrives and the people of the ghetto are sent to Treblinka, Wladyslaw escapes and remains on his own in the empty ghetto. If it wasn’t for the help of some courageous Poles he would be dead within a week or two. Either because they would have caught him or because he would have starved.

What follows until the end of the war is an unspeakable ordeal. He has to change his hiding place often, he watches the uprising from a window on the German side and when Warsaw is finally bombed he goes on living in the ruins until the day he is found by a German officer. This part is the best in the movie. It balances the image of the evil German. The officer Wladyslaw meets (played by Thomas Kretschmann) is not only fond of music but war-weary to the extreme. He clearly fought for a cause he didn’t believe in.

Another tragic element in this movie is how hope is crushed. When the Allies declare war on Germany, the Poles and Polish Jews are happy and think that the worst is over when in fact the worst was still to come.

I couldn’t think of a better choice for the pianist than Adrien Brody. He is excellent in this movie. If you haven’t seen The Pianist, I’d say it is high time.

Which Holocaust movies do you like?

12 French War Movies You Must See Before You Die

France, a country that has endured and fought many wars, was at the center of many a battle and armed conflict, a country famous for its outstanding filmmaking has produced a very modest amount of war movies. You will find numerous WWII movies on the Resistance and a fair amount of rather psychological war-time movies but if you are looking for combat movies, you will not be lucky. I know of no French air combat or submarine movie at all.

There may be many reasons and I can only attempt an interpretation, comparing French cinema in general to the cinema of other countries. What becomes apparent soon is that the French are not keen on producing large-scale, epic or very action driven cinema. French movies are psychological and intimate. They focus on the dynamics between a few people, their interaction, the dialogue. Many of the most famous French movies focus on tiny details, small things. It’s easily understood that this doesn’t fit in with infantry combat movies with their huge casts and more action driven story lines.

In choosing 12 movies  I tried to pick the few real combat movies I knew and added the ones that I think excellent or that absoultely need to be watched. I also tried to covera wide range. I left out good ones, I’m sure.

For those who want to further explore French cinema the website French War Movies offers a great overview.

I discovered one huge problem for the non-native speaker when I watched La Grande Illusion recently as I bought a movie with English subtitles. Almost 2/3 of the dialogue was missing. I noticed the same when I watched and reviewed the Italian Rome, Open City (here is my review). Since French and Italian movies are dialogue driven, it’s very hard for a non-native speaker to fully appreciate them. I’m sure this is done better in more recent movies, still it is a problem.

With all this said, let’s open the curtain for twelve stunning movies:

La Grande Illusion aka Grand Illusion (1937): WWI. Jean Renoir’s movie is one of the great classics of European cinema starring the late great Jean Gabin. A POW movie that offers a lot. Interesting German characters included. (Here is the review)

Nuit et brouillard aka Night and Fog (1955): WWII. Alain Resnais’ Holocaust classic. Death Camps. Final Solution. Documentary/original footage about the horrors of the concentration camps. Gut-wrenching. Impressive. A must-see. (Here is the review)

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959): WWII. Another movie by Alain Resnais. A love story between a French woman and a Japanese man from Hiroshima. Interspersed with original footage of Hiroshima. Very special and poetic based on the scenario by Marguerite Duras. A must see for French cinema aficionados. (review upcoming)

L’armée des ombres aka The Army of Shadows (1969): WWII. Jean-Pierre Melville’s Resistance masterpiece. Another classic. Claustrophobic, impressive, sparse. Excellent actors. One of the most depressing movies I’ve ever seen. (Here is my review)

L’honneur d’un capitaine aka A Captain’s Honor (1982): Post war. Algeria. A captain who died on the battle field in Algeria is accused of having been a torturer and a murdered. His widow tries to prove that he wasn’t guilty. (review upcoming)

Dien Bien Phu (1992) : Indochina. Infantry Combat. Schoendoerffer’s movie shows the final defeat of the French in Indochina. Not nice to watch at all. (review upcoming)

Le pianiste aka The Pianist (2002): WWII. Holocaust. Tells the story of a Jewish pianist in the Warsaw ghetto. Harrowing and beautiful. My favourite Holocaust movie. Very moving. (review upcoming)

La chambre des officiers aka The Officer’s Ward (2001): WWI. Everything you never wanted to know about the horrible facial wounds that were so frequent during WWI. Made me quite sick. Painfully well-done  (Here is the review)

Un long dimanche de fiançailles aka A Very Long Engagement (2004): WWI. Based on Sébastien Japrisot’s eponymous novel it tells the harrowing story of young Mathilde who travels to the no man’s land of WWI in search of her lost fiancé.  This is one of the darling movies of international film critics. I did like it but wasn’t awed. Starring the much-loved Audrey Tautou. (review upcoming)

Joyeux Noël aka Merry Christmas (2005): WWI. The story of the little peace during the Great War. During the first Christmas in WWI, German, French and British/Scottish troops cease fire and play football together. Wonderful movie with great actors. One of  my Top 10 all-time favourites and one of the bestanti-war movies that exist. (Here is the review)

L’ennemi intime aka Intimate Enemies (2007): Algeria. One of the very few French Infantry Combat movies. Very good and very critical. About the ugly side of an ugly war that was officially no war. If you want to find out why I found this hard to watch, you’ll have to read the About page. (Here is the review)

L’armée du crime aka The Army of Crime (2009): WWII. French Resistance. Based on the true story of a group of young people and immigrants who fought a desperate fight against the Nazis. They were led by the poet Manouchian. This is an absolutely stunning and very tragic movie. One to watch and re-watch. It went directly on my Top 10. (Here is the review)