Prisoner Of Paradise is somewhat different than a traditional Holocaust documentary movie. Instead of focusing on the Holocaust as a whole the film follows the life of the celebrated actor Kurt Gerron as he rises to fame and eventually becomes not only the victim of Nazi atrocities in the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, but also ultimately part of the Nazi propaganda machine itself.
The film opens with a narration by Ian Holm and with scenes depicting a utopian community. Apparently it is all part of a communal experiment, a communal of “like-minded individuals,” as the narrator explains it. We see healthy children eating bread, musicians performing and sporting activities going on. But all of the sudden, Holm tells us that the images that we have just seen are part of a lie, a huge lie. From that moment on Clarke takes us on a journey through the life of Kurt Gerron (1897-1944), a German Jew, acclaimed director and star of classics such as Josef Von Sternberg's, The Blue Angel and the original performer of ‘Mack the Knife’ in Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera in 1926. Clarke illustrates in great detail how this highly impressive, although in some respects flawed man, is eventually reduced to making a 23-minute short film of Nazi propaganda called The Fuhrer Gives a City to the Jews.
Many considered Gerron a traitor for making the film, yet others felt that he was not in a position to choose. What is impressive about the film is that it doesn’t necessarily judge one-way or the other. "It’s easy to sit in an armchair, 60 years later after the fact and say that I would have taken the bullet," said co-director Malcolm Clarke in a recent interview. "The point that underlies everything is that nobody should ever be placed in a position where they have to make these kinds of decisions. We shouldn’t be doing this to people."
This documentary is beautifully shot, incorporates some fascinating interviews, recently discovered footage, and keeps audience attention throughout. There is something haunting about the way that it all looks puzzled in together. The film is not trying to get into your emotions, but somehow, by the end, it simply creeps in without your even noticing it. There is something quite masterful about that.
This outstanding, Academy-award nominated documentary film is set for wider distribution and will also be making rounds at various worldwide festivals, so be sure to look out for it.
Want to comment on this review? E-mail Katherine at: [email protected]
Prisoner of Paradise is out December 10, 2002.