Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Movie with Abe: Still Life in Lodz

Still Life in Lodz
Directed by Slawomir Grunberg
Released March 12, 2021 (Virtual Cinemas)

People usually feel a connection to their homelands, but the experiences they had both there and in the places they later traveled and lived inform what that relationship is. Being forced to leave somewhere may create resentment towards the place itself for not being a safe and welcoming environment, but it surely also comes with feelings of loss and yearning for what used to be or could have been. Returning to the place where a person grew up later in their life can provide tremendous perspective, opening up old wounds and presenting new questions and answers about formative elements and moments.

Lilka Elbaum grew up in Lodz, Poland, born just after the Holocaust but forced to leave her home during a resurgence of anti-Semitic sentiment at the age of nineteen. Almost half a century later, Lilka, now living in the United States, decides to return to where she was born and see what has become of it, bringing along another American, Paul Celler, who is religious and seeks information about his mother’s experience in Lodz and Auschwitz, and an Israeli artist, Roni Ben-Ari, whose has her own familial connections to Lodz and to the very building where Lilka used to live.

This documentary is framed around a still life painting that hung on the wall of Lilka’s home as a child, one that serves as the best anchor to her past that Lilka can remember, giving it added resonance as she thinks back to its stability and elegance above an ever-changing apartment that saw much conflict over the course of seventy-five years. It’s an intriguing and creative approach, one that lends itself to visually striking animation that imagines minor changes in the placement of the fruits and details of the other objects within the painting as times and moods change around it.

Most of all, this is a powerful story of returning to roots that are complex and full of emotion. Its timing is important as it relates particularly to the Holocaust and prewar Europe because members of those generations are becoming fewer in number, and it is their children and grandchildren who will make trips to these places without firsthand memories of them but merely anecdotes and pieces of stories told to them by their ancestors. This film doesn’t conclude that a trip back to a distant home will be therapeutic or transformative, but that there is considerable value in reflecting on the past and confronting to see how it has shaped the present and continues to shape the future.


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