Wednesday 17 February 2021

Streaming on SBS On Demand - Janice Tong admires THE TESTAMENT (Amichai Greenberg, Austria/Israel, 2017)

Ori Pfeffer, The Testament

This sombre but important film by first time director Amichai Greenberg is a personal and quiet meditation on identity and truth - the two almost always go hand in hand, but its relationship is often more complex and multi-faceted. And truth, in its most unadorned state sometimes bears little to no resemblance to what we know or have taken for granted.

Greenberg tells his story through his unassuming lead character, Yoel (meaning the Lord is God) subtly played by Ori Pfeffer, a devout scholar whose research on Holocaust survivors led him not only to the discovery at the heart of the film, a mass grave site that had not been locatable. ow the land in a small Austrian village was soon to be developed (hence the film moves in the pace of a thriller); but to a far greater discovery of his own history after seeing a photo of his mother appear in one of the witness testaments. 


One can easily see why this film took out the Israeli Feature Film Competition at the 33rd Haifa International Film Festival back in 2017. There are many serious moments in this film, but it is never without transition or movement, and so never dull. Unlike documentaries, Greenberg has distilled the years he spent researching for the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive - a project that was headed up by Steven Spielberg back in the early 2000s, where Greenberg spent three years interviewing hundreds Holocaust survivors’ accounts - into telling a personal story. 


There were more than 50,000 eyewitness accounts that was filmed and archived for this project. I don’t think I could even begin to fathom the impact this would have had on Greenberg as a filmmaker.


Because the film draws on the personal rather than the numerous, I think this intimate pulling-in of the story adds to the dimension of loss (every record has a personal story that binds it to others) and makes Yoel’s crisis of spiritual identity all the more impactful. 


I am never in the habit of reading other reviews when I’m writing my own but I was shocked at Variety’s dismissal of this very fine film. Each to their own I suppose.


Currently available to watch on #sbsondemand

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