A Film Unfinished

In 1942, the Nazi propaganda machine sent camera crews into occupied Warsaw to film life, real and not, in the walled ghetto of the city – 3 square miles housing over 500,000 Jews. The incomplete footage of the horror was found after the war and gave historians a previously unseen view, outside of Hitler’s Germany, into the Warsaw Ghetto and its condemned denizens. First time documentary film maker Yael Hersonski takes the three silent film reels (with a fourth take reel found years later), assembles it to show the terror and then dissects, for analysis, “A Film Unfinished.”

Laura's Review: B+

With “A Film Unfinished,” filmmaker Yael Hersonski accomplishes something unusual - presents a new angle on the Holocaust documentary. This film within a film is an analysis of the artform as propaganda, and while there have been other looks at this subject under the Nazi regime, most recently with "Harlan - ­In the Shadow of Jud Süss," no one has been able to break down the subject to the level of detail of camera angles in different takes. Hersonski also has the perspective of one of the main cameramen on the project, a man who claims to not understand the purpose of what he was shooting, while the work of another is contrasted with the aid of the personal work he did on the project. What is most surprising to me about the film, though, is the existance of wealth in the Warsaw Ghetto, a fact that more than one survivor discusses. Hersonski's voice is heard occasionally as a narrative bridge, but she largely keeps her own objectives out of the picture. The Nazis attempted to exploit a condition by exaggerating it and creating a false impression of Jewish disregard for their own, but one wishes the director had prodded some of the survivors for their own feelings on the subject.

Robin's Review: B-

Director-writer Ben Wheatley is certainly a filmmaker who follows his own creative path: “Kill List,” about a troubled hit man who gets in way over his head, and “Sightseers,” the tale of a couple on an idyllic vacation that turns to mayhem, could not be more different and unusual. But, with “A Field in England” he has walked off the map. The film begins with Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) being hunted by a nobleman, an alchemist of the dark arts, on horseback. As the noble closes in on his prey he is run through by a lancer. The fugitive is joined by three rebel deserters who make the plan to escape death and find a tavern to tie one on. Things begin to get weird when they encounter O’Neil (Michael Smiley), a commanding royalist who coerces the soldiers to dig in the field for his treasure – whatever that is. While foraging for food, one of the men stumbles upon some mushroom and he adds them to their meager stew. The mushrooms are not your garden variety and all the men begin to hallucinate, intensely. “A Field in England” is not a typical narrative. Instead, it is a series of incidents that take a surreal turn when O’Neil forces Whitehead into his tent. The air is pierced by anguished screams emanating from the tent. Then, Whitehead appears, tethered by a long rope, and slowly walks toward the soldiers with an almost demonic look on his face. We do not know what happened in the confines of the tent but it is obvious that it is not good. The story, by Wheatley and Amy Jump, consists mainly of the men talking and walking across the title field. This rambling takes a psychedelic turn when magic mushrooms are added to the mix and the men lose their minds. (There is a caveat at the beginning of the film warning that it contains rapid strobing that may affect the viewer’s brain. When the fast-edited images of the men’s mushroom-induced hallucinations begin, you can see that the warning is not just a gag.) “A Field in England” will likely appeal to Ben Wheatley fans with its combination of drama, thriller and comedy. But, it is a hard slog for those uninitiated to the director’s unique works. It is sometimes fascinating with its extreme visuals and machine gun editing but too many questions are left unanswered, like: Is O’Neil the Devil incarnate? Maybe.