Today is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Commemoration takes many forms, from synagogue services and the recitation of the Kaddish to candlelight vigils to -- according to Wikipedia -- the "viewing of a Holocaust-themed film." In my opinion, the final cinematic word on the subject is 1985's Shoah, Claude Lanzmann's 550-minute-long documentary that uses nothing but survivor and eyewitness interviews to tell the story of the Nazis' systematic extermination of European Jewry. In case that isn't your cup of tea, there are some decent fictional film accounts: Europa, Europa, The Pianist, or Costa-Gravas' Amen, but if movie-watching is going to be part of your remembrance, please avoid the following:
5. The Reader (2008)
Not content to exploit the suffering of Jews for box-office profit, Hollywood now has to expand their narrative scope to make the Nazis sympathetic, including Kate Winslet's character, whose culpability in the murder of 300 Jewish women is apparently secondary to her...inability to read. And while I love Winslet, it's hard not to think about this Extras sketch -- in which she outlines her strategy for winning an Academy Award -- while watching her accept the Best Actress Oscar.
4. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999)
Just to clarify, Earl Morris' documentary about Fred A. Leuchter Jr. isn't a "bad" film per se (though it's far from his best), but the depiction of Leuchter's transformation from a guy who redesigns "inhumane" electric chairs and gas chambers into one of the cornerstones in the Holocaust revisionist movement (Ernst Zundel and David Irving both make loathsome appearances) is maddening. Is he a sociopath or merely a dupe? And do we care, in the end, after the damage has been done?
3. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)
If you're that interested in a movie about the Holocaust from a children's perspective, go rent Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants, which does the job without being overwrought and manipulative.
2. The Day the Clown Cried (1972)
Fine, it's never been released, which would seem to make it hard to judge so harshly. However I have read the screenplay, and after I recovered from the aneurysm it spontaneously grew in my brain, I realized Jerry Lewis had created a film so bad it could potentially bring civilization to its knees. I immediately joined the Bilderberg Group and we -- together with the Rand Corporation and the reverse-vampires -- have kept it from seeing the light of day for almost 40 years. You're welcome.
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1. Life is Beautiful (1998)
Thanks to Roberto Benigni's Oscar-winning tale, I now realize concentration camps were bucolic places, where prisoners could wander freely, harsh reality never intruded, and escape from humanity's worst nightmare is possible if you just believe hard enough. I half expected Benigni to break the fourth wall and ask everybody to clap to save Joshua. (see also Robin Williams' insufferable Jakob the Liar.)