The convenient amnesia many older Austrians apply toward their country’s Nazi-ruled era is filmmaker Marcus J. Carney’s ostensible subject in “The End of the Neubacher Project.” It’s both interesting and frustrating, however, how he lets that theme get away from him as docu grows increasingly focused on his own not always relevant family issues. While in some ways illustrative of how a first-person documentary can become more about its maker than its billed theme, the pic is still intriguing and well-crafted enough to attract fest and some pubcaster play.
Actor-turned-first-time filmmaker Carney does have good initial reason to focus on his own family: His late grandfather and great-uncle (who was Vienna’s mayor during the Nazi years) both benefited enormously from being enthusiastic party members well before Germany annexed Austria in 1938 — even when that membership was still illegal. It’s chilling when one surviving older relative tells Carney, “I still don’t believe that number. Six million (Jews living in Europe) didn’t exist.”
But it’s a bit cringe-inducing when Carney tries grilling his frail, senile grandma (she’s still alert enough to tellingly refuse a line of questioning with, “They’ll think I’m a Nazi”) about that Axis-privileged past. And while it’s poignant to see his vital, charity-organizing mother Jutta succumb to cancer, there’s something more than a little self-serving when Carney uses her funeral to deliver a theatrical speech about the soul-killing curse of Nazi denialism. That’s clearly his big issue, but over a decade’s course of interview footage, there’s no evidence that it was his mother’s, too.
Given the degree to which he imposes a personal agenda on others, it’s strange that Carney leaves some important areas of his family history blank. Notably, he never addresses just why his mother left the American father he only reconnected with in adulthood (as well as a second husband). That father does have a few pithy observations to contribute.
Helmer makes good use of homemovies, family photos and Nazi propaganda footage (in some of which his relatives can be glimpsed). Camerawork beyond archival materials is amateurish, but editorial package well turned.
Print shown at Mill Valley had Carney’s voiceover narration in English; an all-German version exists.