When someone—like, say, Natalie Portman—wins an Oscar for playing Hannah Senesh, let us hope a talent of virtuostic and effortless grace—like, say, Paul Verhoeven—is at the helm. This documentary portrait about the Hungarian Jew, who parachuted into Yugoslavia during the tail-end of WWII on a British-supported mission to save the Jews of Hungary and who died for her chutzpah, is remarkable for bringing a little-known story of one woman’s great courage and conviction to our attention but is most notable for director Roberta Grossman’s dully strenuous cinematic sense. Grossman acknowledges how Senesh was born into a life of luxe but how she grew to become painfully aware of her second-class citizenship as a Jew, embracing Zionism and joining a kibbutz in Palestine before enlisting with the British army. Senesh gave expression to her rage and courage, as well as to her feelings of isolation and insecurity, through a series of poems and letters that are read throughout in an objectively controlled manner that doesn’t exactly jibe with the passion explicit in these texts—which would one day be referenced by Steven Spielberg and interpreted via song by Regina Spektor—but is at least in sync with the rather middlebrow gloss of the film, which is most evident in the Unsolved Mysteries-style recreations of notable events from Senesh’s young life. But beyond the constantly ominous tone maintained by the film’s score, or the manner in which the fate of Senesh’s foxy brother is first concealed (only the appearance of the man’s sons via on-screen interviews reveals that he survived the war), Grossman heralds Senesh’s life with a sustained and striking briskness that avoids the shameless exploitation and audience pandering of, say, a Ron Howard production.
- Balcony Releasing
- 93 min
- Roberta Grossman
- Sophie Sartain
- Joan Allen
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