Culver City Observer -

MOVIE REVIEW:THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE ● NO ASYLUM: THE UNTOLD CHAPTER OF ANNE FRANK'S STORY

 

October 6, 2016

It's a look into history this week with the narrative feature THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE available on Netflix and, NO ASYLUM: THE UNTOLD CHAPTER OF ANNE FRANK'S STORY, now on various digital and VOD platforms.

THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE

Unknown to most is the story of the 1961 post-Colonial siege at Jadotville in The Congo in which Irish battalion A-Company held off a five day attack by 300-plus Katangese secessionists and mercenaries, and despite being out-manned and out-gunned, lost none of their men. The Republic of the Congo was newly formed and its rich seam of uranium, along with other minerals in the Katanga province, were the heart's desire of many of the world's super powers. On Moise Tshombe's seizing control of the country, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold called on Ireland's Conor Cruise O'Brien to lead peace talks, while placing 150 Irish soldiers in the region as a UN peacekeeping force.

Lacking-in-field-experience but with a keen sense of observation and reading of people, not to mention being a strategist, Commandant Pat Quinlan leads the brave Irish lads. But what starts as a "face-off" with a mercenary and French Legionnaire in a local pub, quickly leads to something more as Quinlan realizes "peacekeeping" is not going to be on the agenda. In anticipation of the feared inevitable, A-Company prepares for battle in their remote outpost. Although taken by surprise during Sunday mass when attacked by French and Belgian-led mercs, A-Company is ready for whatever comes their way. As the attacks build and ammunition and supplies run short, Quinlan's calls for back-up from other UN forces fall on deaf ears but A-Company soldiers on. But for how long can they hold their ground?

Strength of performance comes from Mark Strong as Conor Cruise O'Brien while Jamie Dornan serves as the flip side of the emotional coin as Pat Quinlan. While a bad-looking wig on Strong initially takes one aback, the command in his voice and his emotional intensity and conviction drives his performance home. The real surprise though is Jamie Dornan. From where did all that commanding screen presence come? WOW! He is every bit the commander of his unit from not only a military standpoint, but a human standpoint. Not a spoiler given the real historical events, Dornan is heart-stopping as A-Company is at the end of the line and he calmly intones, "We've shot every bullet twice. . .I think we have no choice but to surrender." An almost hushed whisper that bodes pride and also a tinge of embarrassment and sadness at the idea of surrender is both bittersweet and gut-wrenching.

The shortcoming of JADOTVILLE, however, is in the overall character development. We want to know these men. Why do they want to be a UN peacekeeper? Why do they want to go to The Congo? Who are they? Who are their loved ones? How is this brotherhood built and training developed that kept every single one of the Irishmen alive over the course of this five-day battle against hundreds? If there was every a collective David vs Goliath tale, this is it. The film cries for more personalization of each of the men - especially since so many are still alive today - as opposed to the clinicism of the characters. You want to know who they are. But at its beating heart, THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE is all about the battle.

Directed by Richie Smyth with script by Kevin Brodpin adapted from Declan Power's book, this little slice of history, so long swept under the rug, really comes to life with THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE. Smyth proves himself to be the perfect director for JADOTVILLE, given his music video background. He knows how to pace, how to build energy and frenzy while imbuing emotion. Battle sequences here rival any from Spielberg or the most gifted war-embedded cameramen. Visual design and Alex Mackie's editing are exceptionally strong in building tension as attacks become imminent. The line up of the Katangese mercenaries as they prepare to attack is powerfully designed and lensed with a widescreen feel thanks to cinematographer Nikolaus Summerer, so much so that one is immediately transported to Cy Endfield's 1964 work "Zulu." Sound design soars with equal attention given to the softest of dialogues or the minutest bullet piercing. Production values are high all the way around.

One of the biggest joys of the film is its South African location. Glorious lensing by Summerer - from the blue blue wide open skies to the greens of the South African foliage to the distinct brown of the dirt in surrounding sandbags and foxholes - is immersive. Interiors bode that silty smoky grain of the hot sun below the equator lending to a greenish tinge against ugly paint colors on walls. The result is rich with texture.

And there is no scrimping on the score by Joseph Trapanese. Appropriate and befitting the heat of battle balanced with an emotional pragmaticism, Trapanese also infuses some beautiful lilting Irish tones that pay homage to A-Company.

NO ASYLUM: THE UNTOLD CHAPTER OF ANNE FRANK'S STORY

I can think of no more perfect time to talk to you about NO ASYLUM: THE UNTOLD CHAPTER OF ANNE FRANK'S STORY than during this period of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Following a brief theatrical run, the documentary is now available on various digital and VOD platforms and I can't recommend it highly enough.

We all know the public story of Anne Frank and her family, thanks in large part to Anne's diary. We know of the Holocaust, of the yellow stars, of Hitler's rabid beliefs that permeated an ever increasing Nazi-occupied Europe, including Holland where the Franks were. We also know what happened to Anne Frank, her sister Margot, her mother and her father, the latter whom survived the concentration camps and went on to spread the word of tolerance and tell Anne's story. But what most of us don't know is the first chapter of the life of Anne Frank; the happy carefree life of a young girl; and then, the efforts to which Otto Frank went to save his family from the Nazis. The Anne Frank story didn't start with her diary and going into hiding. It started long before then, and continued long after, something that we discover in NO ASYLUM: THE UNTOLD CHAPTER OF ANNE FRANK'S STORY.

Approximately 10-years ago at New York's YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, an archivist discovered a multitude of letters written by Otto Frank in 1941. The letters began with simple requests for assistance in helping the Franks emigrate from Holland to a "safe" country before Nazi occupation consumed the life and the lives, Otto Frank held so dear. But as the clock ticked down and it become more and more dangerous for Jews in Europe, Otto's letters became increasingly desperate and pleading. It is these letters that set the stage for writer/director Paula Fouce and co-writer Michael Flores to tell the story of NO ASYLUM; a film as timely in today's geopolitical climate as the original events in 1941.

Essentially breaking the documentary into three acts, Act One serves to present historical facts interspersed with Otto's letters, giving us geopolitical context while the letters personalize his experience and his frustration. It also tells us of his love for his family. From there, we move into interviews of family, friends and survivors, starting with the Frank's cousin Buddy Elias and Rebecca Siegel. As with each of the film's interview subjects, the survivors, they touch the heart as they speak. With both the pain and horror of the war and the camps, and the wistfulness of happy childhoods playing in the street "when all the children would come out and play together", you are in the moment with them. Particularly effective are the interviews with Siegel and Irene Butter, as well as Anne's step-sister Eva Schloss. Eva's mother eventually married Otto Frank after the war ended.

As the exceedingly well done chronology unfolds we are given an exacting timeline, albeit one of sadness; and in the case of the July 1, 1941 US mandate changing VISA procedures, a horrid take on our then Secretary of State and Congress. A back and forth of letters between Otto, Nathan Strauss and Julian Hollander, as shown through a very keen editing process by Michael Flores, is extremely powerful. As if the contents of each letter when viewed in the chain isn't heartbreaking and infuriating enough, the editing is sharp, quick, tension building. You feel the urgency of "time running out" for Otto and his family.

Fouce and Flores also look to historical and religious experts who provide observation and commentary that "the whole world conspired to enable destructing of the Jewish people". One is stopped dead in their tracks on hearing those words uttered.

As Fouce seamlessly moves into Act Two, there is more focus on Anne's diary, as well as some poignant and sweet film footage of Otto Frank himself. But this is where the interviews of holocaust survivors really take hold as Irene Butter talks about the cattle cars. The specificity and detail of the memories, the time the cars would pull in on a Saturday and sit until Monday and then soldiers would read off names of people and herd them in the cars - shocking. But then Fouce and editor Flores interweave newsreel footage, (some of what was confiscated footage by the Germans) and still photos, making the words and the tears of these people even more moving, more poignant. Personal reminiscences of Sal de Liema and his friendship with Otto Frank nicely tie back to Otto and his letters.

One of the real standout interviews in NO ASYLUM comes from British Major Leonard Berney. It was Berney's troops that arrived at Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, which is where Anne Frank died. Hearing what he saw first hand as a young soldier is chilling - the piles of corpses, pit of corpses - and to this day you hear in his voice his overwhelming puzzlement as to how to feed and help 60,000 people. You'll find yourself cringing and crying as Berney tells horrifying stories of people in the camp taking hearts and livers from the dead, cooking them and eating them. Another testament to Flores' editing is the tie-in between Berney's recollections and the humanizing stories of Irene Butter as she talks about herself and Hannah Lee Goslar bundling up clothes and throwing them over the fence of the concentration camp to Anne, only to have them stolen by another "prisoner".

Anyone who survived the Holocaust or knew/knows those who were imprisoned at various camps may take some comfort in listening to Berney. It is clear that he took his ultimate job as being in charge of the "Displaced Person's Camp" very seriously. He strikes a tone in his voice that feels like "take that you Nazi scum" as he talks of moving everyone three miles up the road to an empty German army camp in order to give them some housing and minor facilities. And your heart aches as you hear his sorrow and pain as he talks about disposing of the bodies in pits but again, great strength as he talks about making the SS prisoners dig the pits and dump the bodies. Unknown to many for decades, Berney aided many young Germans and Jews intent on going to Palestine by giving them food and water; as if trying in his own small way to right the wrongs of the world.

Significant from an historical aspect is what Berney did to document the horrors of Bergen-Belsen. Very little has been heard til now about his efforts in bringing in British media and newsreel photographers to show the British and the world what they were fighting for. That gives us as much emotional context now as it did then to offer up visual proof of the atrocities in play.

A real surprise, even for many historians, is a recording of Dwight D. Eisenhower. We hear his thoughts and predictions that the Germans would deny these atrocities ever happened. One is taken aback and caught off guard hearing Eisenhower himself talk about rounding up the Germans and taking them to Bergen-Belsen to show them what they did, what their army did, what their politics did. This British-American sequence is some of the most striking pieces of historical information to learn in NO ASYLUM. But hand in hand with that is the fast forward to Barney Elias as we see him walk around Bergen-Belsen, show us the headstone for Anne and Margot, while a voice-over reminds us of genocidal killing that has continued. "Humanity never learns." It's exciting to see him continue the work of Otto Frank, talking to young people about peace, learning through Anne's diary and through listening to those who survived. (Barney passed away in 2015.)

As Fouce takes us back to Auschwitz and Otto Frank - and Anne's dear friend Pieter - we see the first visual sign of hope in the film as there is a cut to a shining sun on screen, brilliant blue sky and vivid green tree leaves, and we hear how Providence smiled on Otto in the choice he made to stay the camp; to not leave with Pieter; and how the guard ready to shoot the Jews in firing squad fashion was called away, thus saving Otto and many others. But as our hearts are filling with some joy, Fouce then discloses the fate of Edith Frank. She taps into every possible emotion in the construction of NO ASYLUM. We hear from wistful survivors, grateful for their own salvation, but saddened at the thought "if so-and-so could only have held on a few more weeks". Undeniable is the hope that each of these survivors had.

The research and editing as a whole is beyond impressive. As mentioned before, editing sets a pace, builds tension. The entire construct with newsreel footage and photographs so succinctly reflective of survivor interviews enriches not only the historical context, but the emotional resonance. And what of Luciano Storti's score? The end title music is gorgeous. Uplifting and haunting.

As we listen to Otto Frank reflect on his daughter, opining "I only learned to know [Anne] through her diary", we see a bright blue sky, streaming sun, green trees wafting in the breeze, and we too, get to know not only Anne Frank, but Otto and his love for life and his family.

 

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