Friday, March 4, 2011

Inside Hana's Suitcase Comes To TV

Having been a TV critic for 40 years I don't often get to the cinema these days --I'm sure most readers like me prefer to wait for the TV premiere of exceptional movies.
So I'm happy to report CBC-TV has snagged the broadcast TV premiere of the exceptional 2009 documentary Inside Hana's Suitcase.
It's on CBC Sunday night at 8 and marks a welcome return to form for CBC in its role as a public broadcaster.
Brilliant and moving but never exploitative, Larry Weinstein's documentary seamlessly blends dramatic recreations with reminiscences by the few remaining eye witnesses who help him recreate the extraordinary life and times of Hana Brady, born May 16, 1931, killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1944.
This 90-minute true story is must viewing for every young viewer who cannot envisage the horrors of the Holocaust that exterminated six million Jews and millions of others.
But concentrating on one victim instantly personifies the story, makes it real and vivid.
And Weinstein had a lot of luck along the way.
Brady might have been forgotten by all but a few friends and her surviving brother were it not for the extraordinary efforts of a teacher Fumiko Ishioka, director of the Tpkyp Holocaust Education Resource Center, who asked museum authorities at Aushwitz to donate items that might illustrate what the Jewish refugees went through while at the slave labor camp.
They send a suitcase clearly labelled with Hana Brody's name and destination as well as a canister of the deadly Cyclone B gas used to kill inmates in the "showers".
Weinstein gets all these details near perfect: how the Japanese pre-teens studying the Holocaust with Ishioka bond with this little girl leading the teacher to research what if anything else could be learned about Hana Brody.
By luck she actually finds in the archives drawings by the little girl when first imprisoned and reminisces from school friends who say Hana had a brother.
In fact he is George Brady who is still alive and now living as a white-haired grandfather in Toronto. Plagued by guilt, he reaches out to the teacher and the children, even journeying to Japan for an emotional meeting.
Weinstein very cleverly recreates key scenes in the childhood of George and Hana in Moravia (part of Czechoslovakia) where they were the only two Jewish children in town. We come to care about their fate as first the mother and then the father are taken away by the Nazis. And finally the two children are sent to Aushwitz in cattle cars.
In some scenes the docudrama recreations merge with the reality of the actual present day events --as we are taken through Hana's prison her childish drawings seem to spring to life and fill the screen.
And as George, the boy, opens a present from his jailed mother, George, the old man, shows these little slices of dried bread still preserved in a tin box all these decades later.
An old Japanese woman, a survivor of Hiroshima, meets George in Japan, a stark reminder that many suffered in the war and that Japan had her own war crimes which still need confronting.
Inside Hana;' Suitcase is especially relevant for the pre-teenagers who are near Hana's age when she was killed. As long as they react so emotionally to her fate then Hana and her suitcase will not be forgotten.
MY RATING: ****.

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