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JANA MATTHES, ANDREA SCHRAMM: TACHELES - THE HEART OF THE MATTER/ENDLICH TACHELES (2020) - BERLIN AND BEYOND, SAN FRANCISCO 2020

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YAAL IN ENDLICH TACHELES

A Jewish-German 20-something tries to cope with the Shoah through designing a video game. It doesn't work.

Yaal, the main figure of this film, was hard for me to like, and I still don't like him, but you gradually sympathize with his plight. Yaal has chin whiskers and a bushy mop of hair tied in the back. He grins like a doofus and is chubby, but energetic. Born in Israel but raised in Germany and now a Jewish Berliner, at the age of 21 he decides to cope with his Jewishness by co-designing a video game about the Holocaust, in which the main co-designer is a non-Jewish German friend, Marcel, who has discovered he is directly descended from an SS Officer. They lean toward building in positive options: the little Jewish kid gets to survive, saved by the benevolence of a good-hearted SS officer who, you know, is just doing a job and doesn't really hate Jews and all that. Though his great uncle Roman (originally Romak) died at the hands of the Gestapo as a small boy and his paternal grandmother Rina has lived her life with survivor guilt, and his father has lived his traumatized by this, Yaal has been allowed to grow up without Jewish religion or even ethnicity, a Jew who's not even circumcised wouldn't know he was Jewish except that sometimes in school anti-Semitic remarks were still thrown his way. Oh yes and then he happens to be fluent in modern Hebrew as well as German and was born in Israel and has a grandmother there: that might make him Jewish, mightn't it? Eighty years of wailing, isn't that enough? Well, actually not. Yaal will learn - or appear to learn; the authenticity of the action is not always convincing - that at two generations removed, he still has to cope with the Holocaust as not only an historical legacy but an intimately personal, familial one, and that his approach was wrong. But as the film ends, he has not found the right one.

Yaal hardly knows he's Jewish, but he knows. He yearns to throw off the yoke of Jewish gloom, the suffering, the cloak of tragedy he sees always thrown over Jewishness. Can't Jews have fun? He may not be aware of Jewish humor. He seems not much aware of anything. This film will show Yaal come to some kind of realization. When he sees and learns about the ruins of the Krakow ghetto, he cries. Finally he decides the video game isn't going to work - at least in this form.

The first trouble is the cluelessness of the protagonist, who seems lacking in depth or even good sense. The second is the approach of the filmmakers. They are shooting intimate events that might have played out differently without a camera present. This is signaled right at the start with an up-close shot of Yaal naked in the shower - an ironic place indeed to begin a Holocaust film - bopping and jiving and grinning for the camera and calling attention to the dp and sound recordist's presence with him.

Yaal, Marcel, and the artist, Sarah, go to Krakow and camp out, apparently in a large empty mansion there, which they use as a studio for their brainstorming for the video game that Yaal tentatively calls "Shoah. While God was asleep" (Als Gott schlief). They acquire WWII paraphernalia in a street market where Yaal bargains. Marcel giggles at his prowess and the possibility that this is an innate ethnic skill is thrown out. More tellingly, the two boys enjoy trying on jack boots and clicking their heels, as in an old movie about Nazis. When Marcel insists the game SS officer "isn't even a Nazi," the filmmakers butt in from behind the camera to object.

Later Yaal's father arrives for a visit. He is shocked to see these kids designing a game in which Jews can defend themselves and Nazis can act humanely. As various commentators have said, including Mira Fox of the Jewish paper The Forward,, this process verges on "victim-blaming or even Holocaust denial." Her article's title is "What if we could resolve generational trauma through…a Holocaust video game?" Obviously we can't. When Yaal meets at some point with his mother, sh also tells him he can't get away with a Holocaust video game with positive outcomes. Or he can: but how is that going to help younger generations understand the Holocaust or help Yaal to cope with his heritage?

In Krakow Yaal and his father visit the ghetto site and have a ceremony about the grandmother's slaughtered little brother and his father weeps copiously there and also later when they meet in a cathedral with the representative of a Polish family that at one point helped protect Rina and her little brother, but then, could not. It seems to emerge that Rina was more present than she had ever said when her brother was taken away, and that all her life she has suffered from terrible guilt. This is part of Yaal's learning process, but also, importantly, therapy for his father, who pours out the wail about how growing up in Israel his parents were so under the "black curtain" of the Holocaust they could not even celebrate his and his siblings' birthdays. These events, these new awarenesses, seem to bring more understanding and closeness between father and son.

My need to dismiss this whole business as shallow and ridiculous is tempered by the awareness that these are moving confrontations of real events that illustrate that into the third and forth generations the Holocaust and WWII are still very present. But an uneasiness remains because of the film's manipulative, intrusive process, which is inherently flawed and in so many ways uninformative, even arguably deceptive. From other sources we learn that Yaal was originally working for the filmmakers, who were planning a film about how younger generations deal with a Holocaust background, and then when they learned about Yaal's personal story they decided focusing on him in particular would be more interesting. But how much did they engineer things every steep of the way? [IEndlich Tacheles,[/I] this film's title, uses a Yiddish word adopted into German meaning "straight talking" to mean something like "finally, the truth." This film is pointing to an attempt to come to the truth that's fogged not only by trauma but by filmmaking methods that are inherently, subtly, deceptive.

Outside the film - but it ought not be - it develops as Fox's Forward article tells us based on an interview with Yaal, that he is still working on a Shoah computer game, one in which you can choose multiple different narratives, "but all of the choices lead to the same result, the death and horror of the Holocaust," teaching players the lesson that while people thought they had choices, they did not. The false start has led him to that wisdom.

Tacheles - the Heart of the Matter/Endlich Tacheles, 105 mins., debuted in May 2020 at Munich International Documentary Festival where it was one of 12 films nominated for the German Documentary Film Award, and at the 2021 New York US Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Screened for this review as part of this year's San Francisco Berlin and Beyond Festival, Mar. 11-16, 2022.

DATES & TIMES
Castro Theatre
March 13, 2022
2:30 pm

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A SKETCH FOR THE GAME IN ENDLICH TACHELES

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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