“Sanity is pleasant and calm, but there is no greatness, no true joy, nor the awful sorrow that slashes the heart.”
This month marks the anniversary of Kristallnacht (or Night of Broken Glass) which was a series of attacks against Jewish-owned homes, businesses and synagogues that took place in Germany in November 1938. Named to signify the broken glass which covered the streets following the attacks, it was a turning point for anti Semitism in pre-war Germany and a prelude to the murder of millions of Jews in concentration and extermination camps. The anniversary serves as yet another memory of one of the world’s darkest times.
The dark times of WWII have been continuously represented on film, showing the many pockets of the war and the countless stories of human tragedy and perseverance that were produced as a result. In some instances, it’s the aftermath which proves especially interesting when telling such stories since the focus is often more on the human side. Recently, a pair of releases featuring protagonists forever changed by their time in concentration camps made their Blu-ray debuts for a pair of moving films which make sure we always remember.
Simone Signoret enjoyed her best latter-day role as the titular Madame Rosa, a former holocaust survivor/prostitute who has spent her later years taking care of the children of other prostitutes while they are gone for months at a time. Of all the children she takes care of, Momo (Samy Ben-Youb) is her favorite. The two share a special confidence and a bond, which allows Rosa to confide in the young boy when she begins to suspect her health is beginning to deteriorate.
Recently remade as The Life Ahead starring Sophia Loren, the original version of Madame Rosa is a telling and almost ethereal experience thanks to its leading lady. Signoret exudes strength and internal damage as Rosa, but also brings out the character’s optimism and worldliness. There’s almost a sort of dreaminess in seeing Rosa bond with her young charges and her devotion to them is part of the film’s most sublime pleasures. Madame Rosa does right in its depiction of Arab-Israeli conflicts happening during the time in which the movie is set and the tension between the two sides is certainly felt throughout. Even though Rosa doesn’t divulge too too much about the war and her time in the camps, it’s obvious she carries those memories with her in subtle, if telling ways. Watching Rosa’s fierce attachment and protection of Momo and the others, one suspects her need to take care of children goes beyond just making a living to something far deeper.
Considered to be the funniest man in Germany, comic showman Adam (Jeff Goldblum) finds his and his family’s lives changed forever when they are forced to enter a concentration camp during WWII. Years later, Adam is a broken man who is forever trying to heal in a mental hospital full of holocaust survivors. Despite the guidance of Dr. Gross (Derek Jacobi), Adam cannot get beyond the horrors of his time in the camp under the watchful eye of Commander Klein (Willem Dafoe).
Schrader has never been afraid of delving into the subject of war when it comes to his work and has created harrowing comments on both Vietnam and Iraq that have left the viewer shaken. Adam Resurrected is a different beast even for a wild card filmmaker like Schrader. The film is shot with a surreal bend thanks mainly to its camera work and the director’s penchant for switching between two eras. A lot of what the film attempts (including a hospital romance and the introduction of a severely disturbed child) doesn’t quite work as well as its makers were hoping, but it’s hard to dismiss what does. The scenes between Klein and Adam are harrowing to watch, especially when the former has the latter act like a dog in his office while his family is down in the camp. Meanwhile, the film’s theme of using laughter as a form of therapy is handled rather beautifully as we watch Adam try and reconcile his part and the ghosts which continue to haunt him.
Madame Rosa is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Classics. Adam Resurrected is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from MVD Entertainment Group.