Saturday, March 30, 2019

Movie with Abe: Sobibor

Directed by Konstantin Khabenskiy
Released March 29, 2019

It is impossible to imagine the horrors of the Holocaust for those who did not live through it and experience it. Being systematically removed from public and societal life because of one’s religion was just one awful first step, and the daily existence in concentration camps is something that is often portrayed on film and always sobering to watch. Those who were sent to concentration camps came from many different professions and places, and to be forced into subservience to the whims of guards and brutal labor is a notion that seems completely unthinkable.

In 1943, Soviet soldier Alexander Pechersky (Konstantin Khabenskiy) is sent to the Sobibor death camp in Poland. Spared as a skilled laborer while many of those arriving with him are walked into gas chambers thinking they are being given a shower, Pechersky channels his spirit to fight and resist being broken and ultimately killed by the Nazi guards. Despite brutal retribution for anyone caught trying to escape, Pechersky gathers those closest to him to prepare for an uprising that feels even more vital by news that the camp may soon be liquidated.

There is a certain quality found in most Holocaust movies that is indeed present here, trapping audience members in the inescapable and unfathomable misery of the reality portrayed on screen. The sight of people being led into gas chambers is endlessly disturbing, and the degree to which the guards torment their prisoners is particularly upsetting, designed to break them mentally and morally just as much as it is to starve them and punish them physically. What this film manages to capture more than anything is the conflict between an instinct to fight back and a knowledge of when not to, illustrated most distressingly by the execution of every tenth person in the camp as the standard response to an attempted escape.

This film served as Russia’s official submission to the Oscar race for Best Foreign Film last year, and while it did not make the cut, it does stand as a worthwhile entry. Pechersky, who acts both as director and star, does a commendable job making a film that does feel sensational or overly-dramatized, focusing in on the emotions and struggles of all of its characters who want to protect their identities but understand the consequences of resistance that go far beyond them. Seeing this rare account of a successful uprising is just as affirming as it is tragic, given the millions who lost their lives. Though it may not have the scope or cinematic style of some other Holocaust movies, this treatment is respectful and appropriately commemorative of the history it portrays.


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