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There’s no doubt that Isaac Hertz’s debut documentary feature is a labor of love. This assemblage of testimonies by Holocaust survivors and others about a vanished way of life in Europe before the devastation has an undeniable poignancy. But while any addition to the cinematic canon about the subject is to be welcomed, Life Is Strange is ultimately too scattershot in its approach and amateurishly rendered to have the necessary impact.
Unnecessarily using a child’s voiceover as a narrator and framing device—it’s too cutesy by far—the film mixes contemporary interviews with inevitably potent archival footage. The more than two dozen interview subjects are a disparate lot, including Israeli president Shimon Peres; several Nobel Prize winners and professors; children’s book author Uri Orlev (The Island on Bird Street); Peter Marcuse, son of famed philosopher Herbert Marcuse, and several personal friends of the filmmaker.
The childhood memories expressed are very affecting, such as reminiscences of Passover rituals, studying the Talmud, and participating in Bar-Mitzvahs that were far less grandiose than those held today.
Inevitably more painful topics arise, such as the growing anti-Semitism sweeping Europe and the rise of the Nazis that led to such horrific events as Kristallnacht and the establishment of the concentration camps, with several survivors hauntingly recounting their encounters with the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele.
Director Hertz and his editors have assembled the footage in roughly chronological fashion, with some segments necessarily having more dramatic impact than others. But Life is Strange—the title comes from a quote by one of the survivors—lacks the sustained emotional power of many of the similarly themed Holocaust documentaries that have preceded it.
(Look Back Productions)
Narrators: Zachary Cirino, Isaac Hertz
Director: Isaac Hertz
Screenwriters: Isaac Hertz, Alain Jakubowicz
Producers: Alain Jakubowicz, Sammy Grundwerg, Ron Samuels
Executive producer: Judah Hertz
Editors: Alain Jakubowicz, Artem Zuev
Composer: Jean-Michel Guirao
Not rated, 95 min.
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