Opening 9 Nov 2006
We are familiar with the dreadful scenes from countless movies on the Holocaust. The round-up at before dawn; the transport to Auschwitz or other concentration camps with hundreds jammed into cattle cars without water, food, any sanitation except a bucket or protection from the heat in summer, the bitter cold in winter; the desperate need for hope against all odds. Yet the images still shock--the horror never eases no matter how obvious or familiar the script because it is all too vivid in our minds and nightmares. This really happened, we can never forget that, and it imbues even a mediocre film with seat-gripping intensity.
As it happens, Der Letzte Zug is not a bad film. It is predictable, and none of the events comes as a surprise. But it portrays the hope along with heart-rending despair and the mostly useless escape attempts which bind you to the characters. The actors, especially the father (Gideon Burkhard as Henry Neuman) and nine-year old daughter (Lena Beyerling as Nina) are excellent. The families chosen to represent 688 desperate Jews on that horrific six day journey from Berlin to Auschwitz in 1943 are fictional composites drawn from eye-witness accounts and fashioned into a workable script by Stephen Glantz. The film is well directed by Dana Vávrová and Joseph Vilsmaier The footage in the cattle car was shot with hand-held cameras and the elaborate choreography necessary to film so many people pressed together in that small space must have been mind-boggling.
I fear that the wish of the producer, Alfred Brauner (who also wrote the story the script is based on), that the film will draw crowds into the cinemas, will not be realized. The awful truth is that the audience for films about the Holocaust is disappearing and the seemingly impossible concept that this period of history might someday be relativized, belittled or actually ignored or forgotten becomes more likely as the stories become almost too familiar and the need to bear witness, if only as a movie-goer, feels less urgent. (Adele Riepe)