Endlich Tacheles

There is a moment, early on in the film, where someone excitedly says something like: “finally, a film made by a German and a Jew.” The choice of phrase is not deliberate but gives a lot away. Heaven forfend that there could be someone who is both German and Jewish. Later the same person talks about SS men who “weren’t Nazis, they were just looking out for their family”. There is a certain tone deafness here, that shows why films about the Holocaust are still necessary.

Just to be clear, of course Daniel Goldhagen’s claims that all Germans were responsible for the Holocaust are nonsense. The industrial genocide of Jews was only possible on the back of the physical crushing of all opposition. But joining the SS was a choice. Trying to excuse your ancestors who made this choice sails close to trying to justify and apologise for Nazism.

Yaar is not trying to justify, he is trying to understand. A significant number of his family members were murdered in Krakow and in the subsequent concentration camps. On the one hand, this is all quite distant from him – it was a long time ago, and he is not even a practising Jew. On the other, it has crushing scars on his family, some of whom appear in this film.

Yaar’s grandmother Rina was sent to the concentration camp of Plaszow. She told the family that she was in school when her young brother Marek was executed by the Nazis. In the course of the film, we learn that she was actually present, but was unable to prevent what happened. This affected her subsequent relationship with her family, who were not allowed to celebrate birthdays.

Yaar’s way of dealing with his traumatic history is to make a video game. This is maybe the first sign that I maybe should not be the person who is reviewing this film. I just don’t get video games. More precisely, I don’t get why anyone aged over 12 would be interested in them. I accept that they are, but it is just a world that I cannot start to understand.

Theodor Adorno said that to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. You can only guess how he’d react to a Holocaust-based video game. The medium just seems too lightweight. Similarly. Yaar, who is 21, lacks the gravitas to really explain the tragedy of the Holocaust. Too often, he is too keen to make himself the centre of a story which is about much more than his personal history.

Nonetheless, we regularly touch on real moral dilemmas. Yaar’s German colleague Marcel is keen to give the video game a happy ending – otherwise its too much like Schindler’s List. (Marcel may have missed that Schindler’s List tried way too hard to excuse the occasional good Nazi, which served in its own way to avoid naming the culpable).

Yaar on the other hand needs the story to end in tragedy. He needs the child to die – because this is what really happened. This is where the film is at its strongest – in showing that, contrary to Marcel’s pleas that it was all a long time ago, that we should not be fobbed off with happy endings, but be confronted with the full horror of what actually happened.

Because the film concentrates almost exclusively on Yaar’s family tragedy, it does not generalise enough. It is moving to see Yaar and his family break into tears as they recount what happened to close family members. And yet this is distanced from us – it is a sad story, but it happened to someone else. We are allowed to feel pity and sympathy, but not fear.

Parties with similar genocidal politics are gaining strength throughout Europe and beyond. It is not – and should not be – the remit of films like Endlich Tacheles to tell us what the mass murder of Yaar’s family has to do with this. And yet, the intense personalisation serves to weaken the message of a story which is clearly not just about Poland in the 1940s.

Endlich Tacheles tells a story which needs to be told. I’m just not so sure that it tells the story very well. We learn a little too much about Yaar, and much too little about his exterminated family. This is a film which would have benefited from a little more anger. The Nazi genocide must not happen again. Whereas we should have heard a cry for change, we are treated to a slightly maudlin personal tragedy.

Interesting, but could have been much better.

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