Director: Maggie Peren (Germany, Luxembourg). Year of Release: 2022
Berlin, 1942. Cioma lives in a huge house, which he’s taken over after his Jewish parents “moved East”. For most of the time, Cioma’s Aryan features mean that he manages to pass himself off as a German – for reasons which are never explained, he’s not compelled to wear a yellow star. Cioma’s proper job is cutting up metal pipes for the weapons industry, so he is protected from being sent to the front or a Concentration Camp.
He’s done a couple of terms at art school, which is enough to get him an unofficial job forging passports for other Jewish people trying to flee the country. The liberal lawyer who is organising the passports tells Cioma that the last thing he should do is let anyone else into the house. So it’s not long before his friend Det is round all the time. Cioma also shows an arrogant tendency to work openly, where anyone could look over his shoulder.
There is something off-putting about Cioma which is that he’s always smiling. Is this supposed to be part of his disguise, or simply bad acting? Either way, it’s a distraction from the story about the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. In fact, we never really get any sense of the extreme persecutions of Jews in 1940s Germany, nor. It’s almost as if that is much too vulgar to portray on screen.
The problem is that as we see things through Cioma’s eyes, we rarely get any sense of jeopardy. Either he really doesn’t have any fear, or he has great front (there is a lot of talk in the film about mimicry), but either way, there is little sense of mounting terror. The fact that this is based on a true story doesn’t make it any easier. You are constantly asking yourself whether someone could live so audaciously in the Nazi dictatorship, and if this somehow is blaming the other victims.
This may raise important political questions, but one important aesthetic result is that the film gets very boring. Not much happens, outside a few meals in a fancy restaurant. There is a brief affair with Gerda, a Jewish woman who departs just about as quickly as she arrives. Like every other character in the film, Gerda is drawn with faint brush strokes and has little character of her own. Cioma had been apparently deeply in love with her, but doesn’t noticeably mourn her departure.
The closing credits tell us the fate of the real-life Cioma. Just as the Nazi net was closing in, he forged a passport for himself, and rode by bicycle to the Swiss border (for those of you not familiar with German geography, that is a hell of a way). He managed to cross the border, and lived in Switzerland into his nineties. Towards the end of his life, he wrote the autobiography on which this film is based.
Ultimately, though, it is hard to feel strongly about someone who seems incapable of showing strong feelings himself. Whether the real Cioma was actually like this is largely irrelevant – we have been asked to spend 2 hours in the company of this man, or at least an imitation of him. It would help if he does something interesting, or at the very least shows some emotion. For all the critics’ talk of charisma, Chutzpah and charm, on a day-to-day basis, Cioma is pretty dull, really.
I normally write longer reviews that this, but to be honest that’s all I want to say. It’s not that I disliked the film, more that it filled me with an overwhelming sense of “Meh!”