Grabuer's Journey (Calatoria lui Gruber) (2008)





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Holocaust Black Comedy serves as corrective to lies of Holocaust 'Minimizers' *** This review may contain spoilers *** A few posters on some other movie review sites appear to be in major denial regarding Romanian culpability vis-a-vis the Holocaust. One poster on IMDb goes so far as to say that the persecution of the Jews in Romania was by and large a series of "isolated" incidents. In regards to the Iasi pogrom (which is addressed in "Gruber's Journey), he writes: "In June, 1941, in Iasi, the German army rounded up and deported a number of Jews, following their acts of antifascist resistance and sabotage. The real numbers seem to be somewhere between 500 and 2000". The actual number of Jews killed during Iasi pogrom was put at 13,266 by the Romanian Special Intelligence Service (SSI); the Jewish community statistics listed 14,850 killed. This was all documented by The Wiesel Commission, the common name given to the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, which was established by former President Ion Iliescu in October 2003 to research and create a report on the actual history of the Holocaust in Romania. According to Wikipedia, "The Commission was led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel; the report was released in late 2004. The Romanian government recognized the report's findings and acknowledged the deliberate participation in the Holocaust by the World War II Romanian regime led by Ion Antonescu. The report assessed that between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews were murdered or died under the supervision and as a result of the deliberate policies of Romanian civilian and military authorities. The Wiesel Commission report also documented pervasive anti-Semitism and violence against Jews in Romania before World War II, when Romania's Jewish population was among the largest in Europe." The Wiesel Commission's report can be found at Gruber's Journey represents a corrective to those Holocaust deniers and minimizers who seek to minimize the role of Romanian participation in the Holocaust. The film's focus is really on Curzio Malaparte, an Italian journalist who was a press attaché in the Wehrmacht during World War II. We learn that Malaparte, who suffers from debilitating allergies, was earlier referred to a Jewish doctor, an allergist named Josef Gruber, who has disappeared after many Jews have been rounded up in Iasi and transported to parts unknown in packed cattle cars. Malaparte must find Gruber who he believes can help him overcome his allergies so he can basically function on the job. The story picks up with Malaparte headed for the front accompanied by Colonel Freitag, a high-ranking German officer. Malaparte has a severe allergy attack on the train and they stop off in a local town where he's greeted by the head of the Italian Consulate inside an extremely dusty building where his allergies only seem to get worse (both the Italian Consul and German officer are presented sympathetically as they try to help the ailing Malaparte). At one point, Malaparte is so incapacitated that he remains in his hotel room during an air raid attack. Finally, Malaparte receives information that a Josef Gruber has been deported with other Jews from Iasi. Malaparte then goes on his own journey attempting to navigate through the bureaucracy of the Romanian Police and Army attempting to find exactly where Gruber has been taken. The film's director, Radu Gabrea, does not whitewash Romanian responsibility for the various pogroms committed against the Jews. While the occupying German force supported their actions, Gabrea makes it quite clear that it was both the Romanian Police and Army along with the local populace (and not the Wehrmacht) who organized and carried out the widespread killings of Jews in Romania. Unlike Roberto Benigni, who unsuccessfully attempted to mix comedy and pathos during his Holocaust themed-film, 'Life is Beautiful', Director Gabrea is on much more solid ground in his examination of the Holocaust from a comic point of view. "Gruber's Journey' is not only a 'black comedy' but a wonderful illustration of the phrase coined by Hannah Arendt, 'The Banality of Evil'. Malaparte is tossed to-and-fro between one bureaucrat and another as they stymie him in his quest to find out Gruber's fate. Chief among these petty tyrants who put obstacles in Malaparte's path at every turn is Stavarache, the head of the Secret Police and Colonel Niculescu-Coca, the local Army Garrison Commander. It's laughable (but at the same time horribly tragic) that these bumbling 'men of authority' have the fate of thousands of human beings in their hands. Orders are carried out on the pretext that Jewish 'terrorists' and 'provocateurs' are responsible for all the 'disturbances' (most based on rumors or falsely created incidents by local terror squads) which the authorities must address. The 'men at the top' very much indulge themselves by wielding almost unlimited power (checked only when the Germans override them) but descend into petty bickering as they desperately attempt to protect their own turf. Gabrea intentionally only hints at the pervasive violence all around. When Malaparte enters the police station, locals are wiping off blood from the front walls of the station?evidence of a massacre occurring the night before. And when Malaparte finally discovers the doomed cattle cars, we only hear the screams of the trapped Jews inside?Gabrea resists showing us a scene (which actually occurred) where Malaparte opens one of the train doors and bodies fall out. It's this mixture of detachment and obliviousness coupled with sadism and petty narcissism amongst the populace which is being held up by Gabrea in high relief. Somewhere along the line, we could have learned a little bit more about Malaparte's character. We do learn from the final credits that Malaparte wrote a widely-read book after the War which condemned the atrocities committed by both the Germans and Romanians. He also became a Communist. The performances are uniformly excellent including Florin Piersic Jr's Malaparte?despite the fact that his German and Italian were dubbed (amazingly, you will not notice this!). See Gruber's Journey and read the Wiesel Commission's report!

Lewis Papier
Lewis Papier

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