Judit Elek’s emotionally draining documentary about the life of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel is an accomplished pieceof work that will certainly crop up at several film festivals during the year and should find limited theatrical as well as TV exposure in many territories.
Made with Wiesel’s full cooperation, the film focuses mostly on his journey, accompanied by a small group of friends, back to Sziget, the Transylvanian town where he was born and where he spent his youth until, at the age of 15, he was transported with his family to Auschwitz.
In Sziget, which is now in Romania but which was part of Hungary in 1944, Wiesel receives a warm welcome from local officials and is made an honorary citizen; in his acceptance speech, he warns against rising nationalism in Romania. Walking around the streets, he talks to locals who remember that the Jewish section of the town was destroyed by the authorities after the Jews themselves were taken away. Wiesel meets an elderly man who proves to be the brother of his family doctor; the man reveals that he escaped transportation by hiding out in the forests.
Meanwhile, old film footage vividly depicts the way the Jewish citizens of towns like Sziget lived before the war. Wiesel recalls his childhood and the closeness he felt to his parents and younger sister.
In Auschwitz, a tour around the grim remains of the concentration camp is accompanied by Wiesel’s painful recollection of his experiences there. He speaks of the last time he saw his mother and sister, and of how his father was beaten to death as he begged for water.
Elek’s understated but deeply touching film opens with footage of the inauguration of the Holocaust Memorial Museum and ends with the 1986 presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Wiesel by the King of Norway in Oslo. Music is used sparingly as a gentle counterpoint to the images.
Docu’s most powerful element is Wiesel’s frank commentary as he literally speaks about the unspeakable. This is another important addition to the list of films about the horror of the Holocaust.