24 July 2009 | Lichtmesz23
Neorealism at Auschwitz
Though rarely shown and hardly available this is one of the most remarkable films about the concentration camp of Auschwitz ever made. Shot as early as 1947, partly on location at the camp, even featuring former inmates among the actors, and using original languages, OSTATNI ETAP is a kind of first-hand re-enactment and gives for the most part a very convincing, gripping and realistic portrait of what life was like at the camp. The film is well directed and staged,occasionally using dramatic compositions and lightning to a striking effect. It is actually no less impressive as any then-contemporary film by Roberto Rossellini and other of the "neo-realist" school. The whole now-familiar iconography of Holocaust cinema is already there, probably for the first time, copied in hundreds of movies to come. Andrzej Munk's more stylized PASAZERKA is clearly influenced by the OSTATNI ETAP as both films are set in a woman's camp and feature sadistic female SS-guards.
However, due to historical circumstances there are many aspects in the film which have later been more or less dropped or at least received lesser attention. The role of women as both victims and perpetrators is at the center of the film, and large space is given to show the cruelty of Kapos, block elders (women with a black triangle, implicating "Anti-socials" and criminals) and SS-collaborating and egoistic inmates as well. The concept of primary Jewish suffering at Auschwitz now at the core of the narrative is de-emphasized, and the Jews are presented as just one of many peoples (f.e. Russians and French are shown) interned and murdered there. There is a more explicit focus on communists and Poles being victimized, as well as a clear sympathy for Stalin and the Red Army, which also shows in the rather unconvincing melodramatic final scene, when the heroine, facing execution, holds an accusing speech against their henchmen while soviet planes appear in the sky like in a last-minute-rescue. A final title claims the highly exaggerated number of 4.5 Mio victims at Auschwitz, a number that was corrected only decades later, in 1990.
The portrayal of the SS is effective but pretty cliché-ridden, and the stereotypes presented here have become stock ingredients of the genre - such as fat, ugly, stupid and vain Nazis with scars on their faces and Iron Crosses on their fancy uniforms, cynically dancing waltzes and drinking champagne in their "free" time, stiff cigarette-smoking-"we-have-ways-to-make-you-talk"-torture-officers, and Ilse-Koch-like SS women.
Overall OSTATNI ETAP is both an exceptionable document and a well-made film, which beats SCHINDLER'S LIST by far. It is a pity that this film has become so obscure.