Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Luke Holland
Writer: Luke Holland
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/27/21
Opens: May 21, 2021
Turkey refuses to admit its role in the Armenian genocide of 1915, making it a crime to speak of that nation’s actions. At the same time Germany freely concedes its guilt in the Holocaust, has built one impressive memorial to Jews covering one square block in Berlin, has posters around a museum-like outdoor site of the perpetrators, and makes it a crime to deny the Holocaust. While Germany, which has given reparations to the families of Jews of lost their lives and property from the thirties to the mid-forties, individual Germans run the spectrum on the question of guilt. Editing down from a huge number of interviews to a ninety-four minutes of talking heads and a few archival shots from the Nazi era, writer-director Luke Holland, who was not aware of his own Jewish heritage until he was an adult, lays out his case, which boils down to this. 1) Some interviewees refuse to accept guilt because a) they had no idea that exterminations were going on for years, b) they could not have done anything about them lest they themselves be taken to a wall and shot, 2) they are proud of their service in the Waffen-SS or the regular army and, in one extreme case a guy said simply that he did not pity the Jews. No elaboration there. In a lesser case, one elderly fellow said that the Jews should have been driven out of the country to a place that they can rule themselves. How about that…a Nazi Zionist!
At least those two fellows tell the truth about their feelings, something we did not hear from some of the other interviewees, who by now realize that it’s no longer kosher to speak in favor of the Holocaust. In a different situation, Claude Lanzmann, in his momentous and long doc “Shoah,” elicited pro-Nazi statements from his subjects by subtly pretending that he is himself pro-Hitler. Lanzmann’s classic film, which is rated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, was eleven years in the making. Holland’s took about the same time to make. The writer-director of “Final Account” died last year, eleven months before the official release.
In a sense, some of the comments by this group of people in their 80’s and 90’s (the oldest would be 97 this year), gloss over the atrocities of the Nazi regime. For example, they say that membership in the Hitler Youth was compulsory. Young men and women were proud to don uniforms, to play sports, to feel a sense of nationalism not usually that strong in teens. At the same time that respondents in this doc talk up their love of the great outdoors, they do not go into the indoctrination that would certainly not be a part of what scout leaders in our country do. They were taught hatred and fear of Jews. We all know the truth of the statement that if you capture the interest of people during their growing years, they will follow that ideology throughout their adult lives. This may explain that many older Germans, the very people interviewed by Holland, may not be so anti-Nazy but are afraid of speaking their minds truthfully.
While some of the elderly women freely noted that they could smell the chimneys of the crematoriums from two kilometers away, and that there was nothing they could do about it since they would themselves go up in smoke if they raised the issue publicly. In fact others made sure to tell of how when Jewish escapees from the nearby camp tried to hide on the farm, they were betrayed by homeowners.
The film may not be loved by a prospective audience allergic to talking heads that dominate over archival film, nor would people who have gone way beyond Holocaust 101, have absorbed the vast literature and cinematic coverage of the tragedy. But in our country, some political scientists insist that up to 40% of Americans know nothing of the Holocaust, difficult to believe since the unit in coverage in Social Studies classes in middle school and high school and those few who go on in college to pay attention to history as well as to computer studies. The mournful cello music, however repetitive, is not intrusive and plays a role in capturing the overwhelming sadness of the film.
The principal advantage of this film is, as the title suggests, a final account. Few Germans who were eighteen and over during the thirties and forties are alive today, so this may be the last chance a filmmaker has to capture the variety of opinions of those who had been old enough to be directly aware of Nazi horrors.
94 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B