Back on the List I am continuing on the depressive strain to late. This time with the Polish movie “Pasazerka” (Passenger), a movie that largely takes place in Auschwitz. That, more or less, sets the tone.
“Passenger” is an odd movie in the sense that it is unfinished. The director Andrzej Munk died during the shooting of the movie and the end-product is a combination of footage and stills with a narrator filling the gaps. It therefore feels like half movie, half documentary about the movie. It is strange and I cannot say that worked very well. It certainly made me focus more on the process of making the film than the story of the film.
The story also drowns in the subject matter. Any movie featuring a death camp will overwhelm the viewer with the enormous tragedy of millions of people being systematically killed, and for the few who are not being killed outright, total degradation. I personally have a hard time with Holocaust movies and this one pressed exactly the wrong buttons for me. In one scene we see a large group of children walking into a gas chamber, completely oblivious to their imminent death, some holding hands with nurses guiding them there. Then a German guard prepares the poisonous gas, with no second thought for what he is doing. I felt like puking.
I have been to Theresienstadt, mostly because my wife’s great-grandparents were killed there, and that was bad enough. A real death camp I could not visit. It would be too much.
Somewhere there is a story, but I am not really sure about it. We follow a woman, Liza (Aleksandra Slaska) who is a guard, an overseer, with SS tags and all. On a boat trip she sees a woman she thinks is a woman from her past and so she tells her ignorant husband an edited version of her past, something about that she saved that woman’s life in Auschwitz. Later we get the honest story which is something about that Liza and that woman, Marta (Anna Ciepielewska) waged a mental war of supremacy on each other.
This is where I had to let go of the story. I simply have no idea what this conflict was about and how it played out. It also seems of very little consequence with the pictures of all that misery around them. We see the barracks where the prisoners live, we see naked women being chased though the camp, we see prisoners play music for the staff and we watch endless columns of people walking to their death. Who cares about a story about a guard and a prisoner fighting for mental supremacy?
“Passenger” won awards in Cannes and, I think, Venice, but I think that was more for the subject matter than the quality of the film itself. A half-finished film with an obscure conflict? No, it is the pictures from Auschwitz that matters. Those are pictures I remember.
Frankly, I just want to move on to the next movie.