A Film Unfinished


A Film Unfinished

Critics Consensus

A heartbreaking, haunting historical document, A Film Unfinished excavates particularly horrible chapter of Holocaust history, and in doing so, the film provides a glimpse into the Nazi propaganda machine.



Total Count: 64


Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,247
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Movie Info

Yael Hersonski's powerful documentary achieves a remarkable feat through its penetrating look at another film-the now-infamous Nazi-produced film about the Warsaw Ghetto. Discovered after the war, the unfinished work, with no soundtrack, Film Forum is proud to present Yael Hersonski's A FILM UNFINISHED, having its U.S. theatrical premiere on Wednesday, August 18. Since the end of WWII, one copy of a 60-minute (unfinished) propaganda film, shot by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto in May 1942 (a year prior to the uprising), labeled simply "Ghetto," sat undisturbed in an East German archive. A FILM UNFINISHED presents the entire film, both documentary and fictionalized sequences (e.g. dozens of Jewish patrons at an elegant restaurant; a luxurious funeral cortege). It includes a revealing interview with Willy Wist, the only cinematographer identified with the production (himself caught onscreen in his SS uniform), as well as scenes in which now-elderly former residents of the Warsaw Ghetto, reviewing the footage, occasionally recognize their neighbors, or report upon the filmmakers' efforts to stage fantasies of affluence and well-being, or of Jews treating their less fortunate compatriots with callous disdain. This is a film of enormous import: it documents conditions under which ghetto residents lived and the efforts (however imperfect) of the perpetrators to recast this reality to suggest an entirely different scenario. A FILM UNFINISHED is presented with support from the Joan S. Constantiner Fund for Jewish and Holocaust Film. -- (C) Film Forum

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Critic Reviews for A Film Unfinished

All Critics (64) | Top Critics (22)

  • Filmmaker Yael Hersonski reshapes the impossibly vile and tragic source material into a devastating record of Nazi criminality.

    Jan 4, 2011 | Full Review…
  • Yael Hersonski's documentary is infuriating, heartbreaking, devastating -- and scary. It depicts a lie upon a lie.

    Dec 2, 2010 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…
  • Yael Hersonski's A Film Unfinished reclaims history, teaches a lesson about the reliability of images and raises unanswerable questions about complicity.

    Nov 24, 2010 | Full Review…
  • A remarkable new documentary that reminds us of film's inherent capacity for lying.

    Nov 4, 2010 | Rating: 5/5
  • A Film Unfinished reminds you that the nightmare of the Holocaust knows no limits.

    Nov 4, 2010 | Rating: 3/4
  • Discovered after the war, the film contains horrific images of starvation, poverty and humiliation, interspersed with surreal scenes of well-dressed Jews enjoying a restaurant dinner or an urban stroll.

    Oct 14, 2010 | Rating: 3/4

Audience Reviews for A Film Unfinished

  • Feb 19, 2012
    There have been many incomplete films relegated to the dutsbins of oblivion. What separates the subject of "A Film Unfinished" is not its simple title of "The Ghetto" but its subject matter, that of the Warsaw Ghetto in May 1942, shortly before its liquidation, containing about an hour's worth of footage(some shot in color) commissioned by the Nazis that was forgotten for decades in East German archives. For me watching the footage is like watching ghosts while providing insight into the horrible conditions inside the ghetto. It is very emotional for survivors to watch it, looking for people they once knew amongst the footage, some of it staged to give the appearance of affluence. As one survivor puts it, they did not have flowers and if they did, they would have eaten them. So what was the purpose of the footage shot? We know it was propaganda, of course, but without any narration or soundtrack, it is hard to know for sure what the point was since that could change the meaning of what we see, even with the testimony of one of the cameramen.(A neat little trick I learned from Screen Studies 101.) And it is also hard to say what footage was intended for a completed film.(Like a lot of filmmakers, the Nazis used multiple takes.) Some survivors thought the film was made to give a negative portrait of the ghetto while I think the Nazis were intending to give the indication of a thriving and vibrant community to cover up any claims of the awful deed they were about to commit since they were not exactly open about the slaughters they committed.
    Walter M Super Reviewer
  • May 05, 2011
    The most depressing documentary that everyone should watch.
    Sam B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 17, 2011
    I'm not sure which was harder to watch...this film, or the extra feature "Death Mills". "Death Mills" is an actual short film directed by Billy Wilder for the U.S. War Dept in 1945. The short film was originally intended for screening in occupied Germany and Austria to show the people in those countries what horrors they supported. It was the first documentary to show what the Allies found when they liberated the camps: the survivors, the conditions, and the evidence of mass murder. This was eventually shown in the U.S., but was rarely done so. This short film alone made this a memorable watch.
    Cynthia S Super Reviewer
  • Sep 15, 2010
    Some films transcend filmmaking or entertainment and just ARE important and valuable and necessary. This is one of those rare and true finds. Literally. Discovered in a vault in East Germany after WWII were reels of silent footage filmed by Third Reich cameramen in the Warsaw Ghetto. Interspersed amongst the images of the massive amount of suffering are staged "scenes" of Jews in more luxurious settings (parties, lavish dinners, etc.). Wealthy-appearing Jews were also forced to walk carelessly by those who were starving or dead in the streets, to demonstrate how callously the Jews behaved. Holocaust survivors are shown this footage, and it is their reactions that prove to be the most haunting images in this film. A modern-day interview with one of the cameramen from that time adds yet another layer to what could have been a very dry documentary. While not the most rigorous of docs on this subject (it could have used a little more background exposition), it resonates greatly, especially today, where so-called "Reality" shows are more carefully written and staged than most fictional narratives. The lines between truth and fiction are so blurred these days, this vital filmgoing experience is a jolt of the reality we NEED to see.
    Glenn G Super Reviewer

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