A tribute to her father’s combat days in World War II, Rosanne Ehrlich’s “Dear Babe” is a personal documentary that consists of letters written by him to his wife from 1943-45. Compelling and moving in moments, but basically unexciting, docu has slight commercial prospects, though trimming of 20 minutes or so should facilitate showing on PBS and in other venues.
In December 1943, Ehrlich’s father joined the war effort, leaving behind a pregnant wife and a young daughter. For two years, he wrote daily to his wife, Hazel, always beginning with “Dear Babe” and always conveying his love for her.
The letters, presented chronologically, provide an interesting narrative about his basic training and combat in Europe, culminating in the liberation of the Ohrdruf concentration camp. As is often the case with such docus, the letters vary greatly in emotional intensity and political interest.
The revelatory ones do offer a fascinating chronicle of the gradual, if inevitable, transformation of an idealistic Jewish-American soldier, who joined the Army to fight fascism, to a cynic who witnessed the horror and insanity of war and the Holocaust.
Interspersed with these letters are interviews with Babe herself, now an octogenarian who’s still elegant and lucid. Ehrlich’s brother Paul is briefly on-camera too, though neither he nor Hazel provide recollections that go much beyond the contents of the letters.
Chief problems are docu’s repetitive structure and not terribly inspired readings of the letters, whose content is often routine. Authentic footage from WWII provides a much-needed visual corollary to the text. Subtle trimming, focusing on the more illuminating letters, could profitably reduce length to 60 minutes.