Back to the Fatherland is a new documentary film directed by Gil Levanon and Katarina Rohrer. One the descendant of a Holocaust survivor and the other one of a Nazi officer, the movie follows them as they explore the stories of grandchildren of Holocaust survivors that returned to Germany and Austria and the reactions of their grandparents.
The idea of the film is very interesting. Exploring this tragedy through the eyes of generations that come after it is an intriguing concept. Although they obviously have to live through the horrors of the event itself, they do have to live with the legacy it has left and the impact it has had on the lives of their family members and, by extension, themselves.
The movie talks about the meaning of the past in a way that is very interesting. Although it is important for us not to repeat what has been done in the past, it is also important to not let the past dictate our future. If we live our lives in fear, that is when evil has truly won. The film offers a positive and encouraging message of forgiveness from which we could all learn.
That being said, the movie does not do a good enough job of developing the subjects on an individual level. The film very easily could have taken a journalistic approach, with the filmmakers positioned as the protagonists in their journey of self-discovery, and it does seem to be going in that direction a few times, but this is abandoned.
Perhaps most disappointing is that the movie is unable to get nearly as much emotion out of the story as there should have been. The stories of Holocaust survivors are among the most heartbreaking out there, and there won’t be much more opportunity to record firsthand accounts of the tragedy, so it is a shame that this film did not allow its subjects to be developed on a more individual level.
The movie also feels very awkwardly paced. A bigger part of the issue seems to be that the filmmakers were unable to get the subjects of the film to open up properly about their stories, but even so, the bits they do have are assembled in a way that is barely coherent. There are a few storylines going on, but the movie lacks the clarity it needed to be effective.
On a technical level, the film was entirely unremarkable. Nothing about the look is bad, per sé, but there isn’t anything to make the movie stand out above the hundreds of other documentaries that are out there about the Holocaust and WWII. A bit more flair in the execution could have went a long way in making the film more interesting.
Overall, Back to the Fatherland was a disappointing documentary. It is a shame that the movie turned out this way, because all of the factors were there on paper for this to be truly remarkable.
Back to the Fatherland opens in theaters on June 14.