We took a break from the Israel Film Festival to see No Place On Earth, a new documentary on Ukranian Jews who survived the Holocaust by living in caves.
Hey, whaddayawant? It’s Encino.
Anyway, we’d been looking forward to it, for reasons that are not entirely explicable. After all, we’d seen In Darkness, the excellent 2011 Polish film about Jews living in the sewers. What new twist was this going to bring to the extensive oeuvre of Holocaust films?
Not much, as it turns out. Except, maybe a reminder that the lessons and stories of the Holocaust don’t need much in the way of twists and embellishments. At least not for us popcorn eaters (RT 100%) even if the critics are more jaded (75%).
Director Janet Tobias frames the history with the tale of a Brooklyn-based spelunker (they call it “caving” now but I’ll never give up a word as awesome as “spelunking”) who stumbles across an otherwise forgotten cave wherein he finds extensive drawings and graffiti. Years of investigation yield nothing, except one snippet from a nearby village: Maybe some Jews used to live there.
Ultimately he does find a clue, but not in the Ukraine. (Like a New Yorker needs to go to the Ukraine to find a Jew.)
And then we get the story. And it’s a good one. The family matriarch is an iron woman. The young men are brave and a little reckless. The girls stay strong and endure months of darkness. There’s understandable betrayal from within and staggering betrayal of all stripes from without. (For me, the hardest part is how the war does absolutely nothing to reduce the anti-semitism.)
In the end, some of the survivors even go back to the old caves, with not just pride but even a little nostalgia. They not only survived, they thrived. And live to this day, which is pretty impressive given the traumas endured.
You have to be made of stone, or a film critic, to not be moved by that.