Not all the filmmakers, however, were equally up to the task of rendering the past on film, found MARCY GOLDBERG.

Dealing with its history has always been a challenge for Berlin. Especially now, a visit to that city offers the unusual chance to see the past literally being taken apart and put back together, torn down or restored, in front of one’s very eyes. Perhaps appropriately, this recycling and remixing of history was also a dominant theme in the documentaries featured at this year’s Berlinale. Like the Berlin city planners, it seems not all documentary makers are equally skilled at handling the past.

A number of films on the Holocaust and the Third Reich were featured at the Berlinale. The Special Screenings of James Moll’s “The Last Days” and “The Specialist” by Eyal Sivan and Rony Brauman were perhaps the most prominent, but unfortunately not the most interesting. Moll’s film, which has since won an Oscar, tells the story of 5 Hungarian Jews, deported in 1944, who survived the concentration camps. Although the survivors’ testimony is extremely moving, and the 5 stories deftly edited together to form one larger whole, the film does not move beyond sentimentality to analysis, and relies on clichéd images like marching Nazis and the remains of the camps to represent the past.

With “The Specialist”, Sivan and Brauman wanted to examine the question of the perpetrators of racism through the example of Adolf Eichmann, the notorious Nazi “bureaucrat killer” who organized most of the transports to concentration camps during the war, and was later tried and executed in Israel. But by confining themselves to nothing but the 1961 Jerusalem trial footage (taped on very early video technology by Leo Hurwitz), which they then edited and digitally manipulated to create various visual and audio effects, the result is a film which is pretentious in style, but ultimately tells us very little.

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