'Aida's Secrets': Film Review

Contains more compelling plot twists than a mystery novel.
10/20/2017

An elderly man discovers that he has a long-lost brother in Alon and Shaul Schwarz's documentary.

Viewers will likely feel the urge to contact a genealogist after seeing Alon and Shaul Schwarz's fascinating and moving documentary about amazing revelations concerning their own family. Aida's Secrets unravels its complex scenario in compelling, page-turner mystery fashion, proving yet again that truth can be much stranger than fiction.

The story begins with the filmmakers' uncle, 67-year-old Izak, discovering that he has a long-lost brother. Izak was born in the displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen in Germany shortly after the end of World War II and was sent by his mother Aida to live with a foster family in Israel when he was three years old. Aida eventually split up with Izak's father and relocated to Canada, while Izak later got married and raised a family. Although he saw his mother on a few occasions over the years, Izak had no information about his father and it wasn’t until his daughter did some sleuthing that he found out that he had a younger brother.

That sibling, Shepsyl, had also moved to Canada, but with his father. Now living in Winnipeg, Shep, as he now called himself, had been blind since childhood and was a Paralympic athlete in his younger days.

The doc shows the two men's emotional reunion at the Winnipeg airport, with Izak overjoyed to meet his long-missing brother and Shep, while also delighted, being a bit warier. That's not even the film's emotional high point, which occurs shortly afterwards when Izak brings Shep to see their now 89-year-old mother, who is living in a Montreal nursing home. We see the physically imposing, self-possessed Shep transform into a little boy, desperate for his mother's affection. Aida responds in kind, although her obvious preference for Izak causes Shep considerable pain.

One might assume that's the end of the story, but no. Not long afterwards, Izak and Shep learn they have different fathers. The family members pore over archival photos and vintage documents; they speak to relatives and old friends of Aida. But the identity of Izak's father remains a mystery. And then, yet another revelation emerges.

While this debut effort from the sibling filmmakers is rough-hewn in technical terms, the story is so compelling and emotionally complicated that it hardly matters. Touching on many themes, not the least of which is the far-reaching devastation wreaked by the Holocaust, Aida's Secrets explores issues of family and morality in mature, non-judgmental fashion. At its center is Aida, who died shortly after reuniting with Shep. Whether unwilling or unable to provide the answers that her adult sons so desperately need, she remains an enigma, albeit a most human one.

Distributor: Music Box Films
Directors: Alon Schwarz, Shaul Schwarz
Screenwriters: Halil Efrat, Alon Schwarz
Producer: Alon Schwarz
Executive producers: Gudrun Hanke-El Ghomri, Barak Heymann, Guy Lavie, Dana Stern
Directors of photography: Christian Clusiau, Shaul Schwarz, Uriel Sinai, Yonathan Weitzman
Editor: Halil Efrat
Composers: Yaniv Fridel, Ofer Shabi, Alberto Shwartz

90 minutes

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