Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Best Picture: "Schindler's List," 1993

Movie Stats:
Released 1993 (USA)
American, in English (significant amounts of non-translated German, Hebrew, and Polish)
Director – Steven Spielberg
Stars – Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes

Plot Summary:
Ostensibly, this is the story of Oskar Schindler (Neeson), an Austrian businessman who used his factories during WWII to save approximately 1,200 Jews. In general, however, it is about the Holocaust. Kingsley co-stars as Schindler’s Jewish co-conspirator (and accountant) Itzhak Stern and Fiennes as Captain Amon Goeth, commander of the Plaszow concentration camp.

Graphic violence (Come on, it’s a movie about the Holocaust, what did you expect?). Blue language, including copious f-bombs. Significant nudity, both male and female, including full-frontal, although much of it is non-sexual in nature. Non-consensual sexual touching.

Bad Stuff:
Some of the stylistic stuff bugs. For example, at the very beginning it seemed clear that the movie was trying to “feel” like a movie from the 30s/40s, and not just because it’s in black and white (I’m talking about the way certain scenes were shot, etc.). Also, there’s the scene with the girl in the pink coat. To me, these attempts at style distracted from the more serious, straightforward nature of the rest of the storytelling. They felt out of place.

If you’ve read my previous reviews, you know it bugs me when a movie takes place in a foreign country, involving foreign people, but is in English. I know filmmakers do it because most moviegoers are lazy & don’t want to read subtitles (and perhaps because subtitling is an extra expense). But I dislike it. If you're going to do this, I expect accents, at least, to be consistent. They weren't in this film. For example, although both Goeth and Schindler were Austrian, Fiennes spoke with an Austrian accent and Neeson did not. That bugged me to distraction.

Good Stuff:
The realism. Honestly, it’s stomach-churning at times, but in a weird way that’s a good thing. I think it’s important to take an unflinching look at a topic this horrific. Why pretend it was anything other than what it was? People’s reactions to their circumstances are also portrayed very realistically. Some people become heroes; others become villains. Even Schindler is very believably portrayed as a reluctant hero, practically duped (initially, at least) into saving people. I enjoyed that lack of sugar-coating.

The acting. This has got to be one of Fiennes’s best performances. He is absolutely chilling as the homicidal, unstable Goeth. I also really enjoyed Kingsley’s performance. So different from his performance in Gandhi, so nuanced and understated. I wasn’t feeling especially impressed with Neeson (not that he was bad) until the very end. The expression on his face when he realizes that, no matter how many people he saved, there were so many more he didn’t save, that heartbroken grief, really punched me in the gut.

The Verdict:
I spent my junior year of college in Germany. While there, I had the opportunity to visit a former concentration camp, Buchenwald (now a memorial/museum). I am neither religious nor spiritual. I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe in ghosts. But there was something about that place, a feeling, as though the atrocities that took place there changed its very essence for all time. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

Most people will never get to have an experience like that. Movies like this are the closest they’ll ever get. This is a great movie for giving viewers a sense of what that time was like – that constant sense of fear, horror and desperation. It puts you there. If you possess even an ounce of compassion or empathy, it will shake you. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it is an important one.

I give it 4.5 stars.


Patricia said...

I saw this in college. We had to drive an hour to the big town with the movie theaters and then sit through the very long movie. It was hard, but worth it, and I think your last paragraph is a very good argument for seeing this.

Afterward, we went out to dinner and felt guilty for eating such a fine meal.

balyien said...

I honestly can't remember if I saw this one in the theater (I do know I'd seen it before). I was dreading watching it again because I could remember how brutal it is. Definitely worth it though.