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Passenger  [DVD]
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A German woman on a ship coming back to Europe notices the face of another woman which brings recollections from the past. She tells her husband that she has been an overseer in Auschwitz during the war, but she has actually saved a woman's life. Her vision is shown and then the actual events.
The last film of talented Polish director Andrzej Munk who was tragically killed during the making of project, Passenger picked up Best Film at the Venice Film Festival and won the Special Award at Cannes.
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Using Auschwitz itself as locations, this film was based on a similar true story to that which inspired Night Porter (though the two films couldn't be more different) - ex guard and inmate meet in the post-war era, triggering reflections back on their relationship and the "truth" of what happened between them. Basically the film is exploring the "banality of evil" thesis and the psychology of the camps as institutionalised sado-masochism (with, sadly, obvious resonance in today's world).
The director Munck died in a car accident while making The Passenger and instead of completing the film his assistants filled the gaps (the post-war part of the film) with stills & voice-over commentary on the problems of the narrative (reminiscent of Marker's La Jetee). Far from spoiling the film these short interludes somehow suit the story & make it seem more sensitive towards its representation of the issues.
It is perhaps worth saying that the film not too graphic & is quite understated given the setting. The horror of the camps is (mostly) off camera. On the other hand the film is deceptively powerful - & inevitably disturbing - in its effect.
Apparently The Passenger met with great acclaim at Cannes & elsewhere when originally released but fell into inexplicable obscurity. It fully warrants this DVD reissue and deserves to be widely seen.
The DVD comes with a booklet & a documentary extra including interviews with Polanski and others. The aspect ratio is a bit odd & box-like which didn't worry me but might bother technical types.
The story goes back to show us what she is like during the war. As an overseer, we see she takes a liking to a Polish woman named Marta who is a political prisoner at Auschwitz. It turns out her fiancée is also imprisoned there but they are forbidden from seeing each other. Between all the miseries that take place in the Nazi death camp, a love story of sorts also occurs.
There is something chilling about this women in unifom with a totenkopf (death's head) patch on her cap. Liza looks the other way occasuionaly and lets the lovers enjoy a few moments together but the fact that Marta remains defiant only outrages her. Although there are a few instances where Liza shows kindness, she also enjoys playing god in which she gives succor in one instance and brings torment the next. If looks could kill Liza would be lethal.
Passenger has more than a few unforgettable scenes. One that stands out for me is when international inspectors come to the camp to see how the prisoners are treated. Marta is chosen as a detainee that they will interview but she can hardly say a word to their questions knowing they will not be able to change her situation.Read more ›
Polish director Andrzej Munk died while filming this moody,impressive and enthralling tale of the holocaust. The film eventually released is a mix of filmed scenes, still-shots and what if's?.
I wont spoil the plot but the film shows two different sides of the same story involving a SS female camp guard and a polish inmate. The camera seems to observe not question the dark days of Central Europe , where the camp system spelt death and dehumanization for millions of Slavs,Jews,Homosexuals and Gypsies.
There is very little torture-porn or sadistic lingering camera shots to please the modern voyuer,thank god, this is a thinking film, a film of space between dialogue and of thoughts between action.
Second Run have an amazing catalogue of films from Eastern Europe between 1950-1990, i recommend checking their website out and exploring their titles.