With Holocaust Memorial day coming up, schools might want to show a historical film. Sometimes, parents complain that history films rated 15 are shown to kids too young to see them in the cinema, but there are great films on the Holocaust that are suitable for all ages.
Now, I’ve seen more than five films on this topic, a lot have been made. I have chosen the five that I think are most informative, from a teaching point of view and from a learner’s. These teach language, they teach history, most importantly, they help us understand why.
1. The music box. (1989)
So, this one is rated 15, partially because of the language. However, it’s not for the same reasons that most Eszterhas scripts may not be suitable for children. It has some harsh language, and some graphic retellings, but I think if it were made later, it would have had a 12 rating.
The screenwriter has his name behind some of the biggest stinkers of my teenage years. But, according to his memoir, he didn’t like Jade or Showgirls. And The Music Box was different.
Music Box is among the films he’s most proud of. It’s based on his experiences among Hungarian refugees, some of which were anti-semitic, others who just seemed to be anti-communist. He wrote it to condemn the criminals, to tell the world about a story that he grew up not even knowing himself as a Hungarian American.
The story behind the film, and what happened afterwards in Eszterhas’ life make the film even more interesting to watch. In the film, the protagonist has to defend a father that she finds out is guilty. Later, the screenwriter found out his own father was wanted for war crimes.
Jessica Lange points out that Costa Gavras doesn’t just do a master and coverage, but actually uses the camera to tell the story. Costa Gavras’ masterful directing is apparent in the first half of the story, but as the plot moves along we can see that the production has been rushed somewhat. Eszterhas apparently wrote a script that was too long (he cheated the margins) and so they had to do a lot of last minute rewrites in order to stay on budget and schedule.
Despite this flaw, the film is still excellent, and very informative about how trials were conducted afterwards. We see a few points of view here, how people could cover things up, and Hungary’s part in the massacre.
4. The round up, or Le Raffle (2010)
Why did the Jews just seem to go without resisting? What about the population who sat there and did nothing?
This tells the story of France’s Jews, how they were rounded up, and the people who showed kindness to them on the way. Not everyone knew they were going to death camps, if they did, guns would not have contained them. People tried to help, but it didn’t work against an organised machine.
We hear anecdotes said by many different characters, hearing points of view and learning snippets of history. Even though it’s hard to pick out a main character, it is easy to follow. It’s also useful for learning French, if only you could turn off the subtitles.
3. Life is Beautiful, La vita è bella (1997)
This film is in italian. It’s a comedy, and as such, it doesn’t pretend to be an accurate depiction of history. However, this satire allows us to see the philosophy behind fascism, as it pokes fun at it.
I showed this to my own children, and it was a good starting point for teaching history. Highly recommended.
2. Diary of Anne Frank (1959)
This is the first holocaust film I saw as a child. It shows the story from the point of view of a girl hiding away, who has the innocence of not knowing what will happen next.
I don’t remember it well, but I remember the power of the feeling, the way you could understand exactly what the characters were going through. There have been other adaptations of the same events, but I think the one made 1959 is by far the most powerful.
1. Night and Fog (1956)
This is a short documentary, no actors, no physical presenter. We see the place it happened, and maybe a few old photographs. It’s as if we’re on location, being given a guided tour of where it happened. Our guide, we don’t even see our guide, narrates not only the events, but details the economics and actions behind it, like the fact that construction companies put in tenders to build the place. This no doubt influenced other films on the Holocaust, which use such details to illuminate the story.