This review was corrected on February 11, 2005
Holocaust documentaries seem to be everywhere these days, with filmmakers seeking new angles and scurrying to capture the last survivors before their stories are lost forever or bought up by Spielberg. Some slyly access the subject through seemingly innocuous personal quests, while others group together individual accounts under striking rubrics such as unsung heroism or hidden children. What makes Gina Angelone’s docu unique is the contrapuntal orchestration of two separate yet parallel voices that intertwine, diverge and reunite in the saga of twins, Irene and Rene Guttman, who survived Mengele’s infamous Auschwitz experiments. Fests and cable beckon.
Archival materials and voice-over narration fill viewers in on the nature of the bizarre “scientific” procedures practiced on twins in Mengele’s exalted search for eugenic purity. Pic’s dominant voice, though, is that of Irene, perhaps because she was the one experimented on while Rene served as “control.”
Irene gives no details of what was done to her, but instead wryly recounts her world from a 6-year-old point of view: her virtuous desire to be Dr. Mengele’s favorite child, the horrific banality of hiding in piles of corpses. Separated from Rene in the camps, Irene was sent to a French orphanage for Jewish children after the war.
Helmer Angelone inserts surprising revelations to create a more dramatic yet wholly organic chronological timeline. Thus Irene’s crippling multiple sclerosis (very possibly a result of Mengele’s surgical tinkering) only becomes apparent late in the film, when the seated interviewee is suddenly shown to be in a wheelchair. Other carefully dosed biographical twists and turns include Irene’s visit with President Truman in the Oval Office and her later reunion with Rene as expedited by a henchman of Al Capone.
As docu progresses, characters grow in eloquence and stature. Irene’s passionate need to be of service and to “do something worthwhile” finds its complement in her 30-minute younger sibling’s gentler, more laid-back generosity. Their lives are never presented under the feel-good banner of comfortable assimilation but rather as a series of formidable challenges until the twins’ present-day old age reads as apogee rather than as anticlimax.
Tech credits are fine and archival footage is satisfyingly germane, rarely generic.