Director: Doron Paz, Yoav Paz (Germany, Israel). Year of Release: 2021
Germany, 1945. A couple are inside a nice house. It’s a respectable place – there’s a crucifix on the wall. But there’s someone in the garden. The husband goes out to confront the intruder, carrying a shotgun just to be sure. He’s ready to shoot, but then he recognises his old neighbour, Max. In fact, Max used to live in this house before the Great Unpleasantness. Before his neighbour dobbed him into the Nazis.
The former neighbour, now house owner, speaks. “This is my place now, Max”, he says. “There’s no place for you here”. Then he adds, “don’t believe that we can’t kill any more Jews, just because the war is over.” He smashes his shotgun into Max’s head. If you need any motivation for why Max takes the path that he does, there’s enough in the opening scene to give you an inkling.
Now homeless, Max finds his way to a camp for Holocaust survivors, where the Allied troops are planning to send them to Israel (which they still call Palestine). It’s interesting that no-one mentions that most survivors didn’t want to go to Israel, but to Europe and the US. But, as they say, history is written by the victors, and German Jews were certainly not that.
At the camp he comes across a group of people who call themselves the Jewish brigade of the British Army. Secretly this group is taking out former members and helpers of the SS. But they have strict rules. They will not kill anyone unless they have 2 separate testimonies that their target was actively involved in working with the Nazis. To this end, they have drawn up a list of legitimate targets.
Max is attracted to these acts of resistance, but very soon this isn’t enough for him. In the course of his actions with the Jewish brigade, he comes across Nakam (named after the Hebrew word for revenge), under the leadership of Abba Kovner. Their manifesto is much more radical. All Germans were more or less complicit in the murder of 6 million Jews. This means that 6 million Germans must die.
Nakam is organised in different German cities, and Max ends up working with them in Nuremberg – at the same time as acting as a double agent, reporting back on the activities of the Jewish brigade. There, he gets a job in the local waterworks, which is useful for Nakam’s plans of releasing poison into the water supply. Much of the film consists of discussions among Nakam members about whether they should really go on with this.
At the beginning of the film, we see text telling us that this is based on real events. Fans of the great US American-German-Jewish singer Daniel Kahn know that he has written a song about just this incident of history. Kahn implicitly blames the Zionist movement for not supporting Nakam (this plays out a little in the film), though the song is less clear on the fact that Nakam’s analysis unfortunately dovetails with that of the anti-Palestinian racist Daniel Goldhagen.
Let’s leave that to one side for the moment, as this isn’t the main point of the film. There is a voiceover at the beginning and the end which poses the question – If all your family had been murdered: all your brothers, all your sisters, your parents, your friends, what would you do? The film may not fully endorse the actions of Nakam but it thoroughly understands them.
But is it any good? I think that the fact that Plan A is able to raise a discussion about all these issues means that it has more substance than most contemporary films. For this reason, it is worth going to see. But there were certain aspects which didn’t quite work for me.
Firstly, and this really shouldn’t matter, the film is very dark. Not as in it is dealing with uncomfortable subject matter, but it is very poorly lit. Now I can fully understand the reason for this – if you are telling the story of Holocaust survivors, you don’t want every second scene to contain a rainbow. But this film was unremittingly gloomy, which somehow seemed to limit what it could say.
Secondly, for all the discussions amongst the Nakam members, they weren’t all that interesting. We seemed to be just making time waiting for the Big Ending, which meant that the middle of the film tended to drag. And the Big Ending had the problem that 1945 was in the past. We already know what happened and what didn’t happen, so there was little room for suspense.
The way in which the film dealt with the fact that we already know that Jewish partisans didn’t kill 6 million Germans didn’t really convince me, but at least it tried. And better a film that tries to engage in an important conversation than one which luxuriates in inoffensive blandness. Plan A didn’t entirely work for me, but at least it had a go.