Dir.: Asaf Saban; Cast: Leib Lev Levin, Neomi Harari, Yoav Bavly, Alma Dishy, Ezra Sagan, Karolina Bruchnicka; Israel/Germany/Poland 2023, 102 min.
Israeli writer/director Asaf Saban takes on a complex, and perhaps even untenable, undertaking that follows a group of Israeli high school students whose final studies retrace the Holocaust in Poland.
Adolescence is never easier at the best of times, and their confrontation with the past makes it less so. Nitzan (Harari) is the central character: she is in love with Ido (Levin) but realises he is narcissistic and does not like to commit himself. On the other Frisch (Bavly) is naïve and rather secretive. His grandfather Yosef (Dagan), a holocaust survivor, accompanies the students on the trip, giving context with his own experiences.
Nitzan is not sure how to deal with so much past trauma, and she steals a shoe from one of the Camp museums in an attempt to bring past and present together. In the barracks of Auschwitz, she bonds with Ido – partly because Frisch has been left behind at a gas station, and is hitchhiking his way to Auschwitz. The truck driver, who gives him a lift, also leads him to the burnt out ruins of an old synagogue where the mayor asks Frisch to say a few words of Hebrew. After Frisch has re-joined the delegation he gets together with Nitzan and Ido and they head off to a party where Frisch ends up sleeping with the birthday girl Anna (Bruchnicka), whilst a relieved Ido is sent packing by Nitzan into the arms of Einat (Dishy) – who has waited patiently on the sidelines.
Delegation works well in portraying the shifting relationship between the teenagers, but is less convincing in Frisch’s encounter with the Polish citizens. Poland’s continued denial of their corroboration with the Nazis during Holocaust is still leading to the violence against the few thousand Jews still left in Poland. During an outing to the city the group leaders warn the Israelis not to display any religious or secular evidence of their nationality, and to stay in groups of six, never venturing off alone. Frisch’s friendly encounter in the synagogue is therefore a clear contradiction of the earlier scene.
Yosef’s role in the feature feels rather sketchy, more substance would have been helpful; but his meetings with Frisch shows the chasm between the survivor’s generation and that of their grandchildren, who use the holocaust to motivate themselves to join the combat units of the IDF.
Cinematographer Bogumie Goodfrejow is very sensitive with his images of the camps – just showing enough to re-invoke the horror. In contrast, the scenes with the teenagers are full throttle – perhaps even more when set against the traumatic background. But Saban seems to have bitten off more than he can chew – somehow the group’s discussions about “what have we seen today” are a tad over-didactic. AS
BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | GENERATION 2023