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In Heaven Underground: The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery

In a desire to dispel ghosts from Europe's largest active Jewish burial ground, Britta Wauer turns it into a cheery, almost cutesy place where gentiles can learn about quaint Jewish customs of an almost incidentally destroyed community, and older Jews fondly reminisce about a bygone world. "In Heaven Underground: The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery" is undoubtedly a well-meaning attempt to bridge the cemetery's grand past and its forested present, but the filmmakers don't understand that ghosts shouldn't be erased, but understood. German TV and less discriminating Jewish fests are likely outlets.

In a desire to dispel ghosts from Europe’s largest active Jewish burial ground, Britta Wauer turns it into a cheery, almost cutesy place where gentiles can learn about quaint Jewish customs of an almost incidentally destroyed community, and older Jews fondly reminisce about a bygone world. “In Heaven Underground: The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery” is undoubtedly a well-meaning attempt to bridge the cemetery’s grand past and its forested present, but the filmmakers don’t understand that ghosts shouldn’t be erased, but understood. German TV and less discriminating Jewish fests are likely outlets.

Opened in 1880, Weissensee forms a huge green swath in Berlin, where well-to-do families commissioned eclectic monuments. It miraculously survived the Nazis and the Wall, finding new momentum with an expanding Russian-Jewish population unfamiliar with traditional customs. Wauer shoots from above and on the ground, emphasizing the sylvan aspects of the troublingly overgrown cemetery, a space shared by ornithologists, tourists and elderly emigres returning to locate family plots. Her attempt to relieve uncomfortable events with happy stories makes for a disturbing superficiality, and a “make your own Jewish grave” student project is plain offensive. Score is omnipresent and insufferable.

In Heaven Underground: The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery

Reviewed at Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, Nov. 21, 2019.