Inside Hana's Suitcase Reviews
As heartfelt as this documentary is, I think I might not exactly be the right audience for it, as it seems aimed mostly to children, who mostly narrate, in order to teach them about tolerance and the Holocaust, bringing it to a level they can understand without scarring them for life. Regardless of the audience, the dramatizations work better in recreating life in the concentration camps than before the war. Now, if only the documentary had been structured better, like maybe pulling a "Searching for Sugar Man" in following Fumiko first, and letting the suspense build, before filling in the rest of the story.
It was pretty eery for me as this movie seemed to pull together a lot of themes in my own life, in ways that I wasn't expecting.
The story of Hana Brady is one that transcends most other documentaries I've seen based on its simplicity and classic story-telling style. The stories of Hana, killed in Auschwitz as a girl, and her brother George are intertwined with that of Fumiko Ishioka, a Japanese school teacher who comes to possess Hana's suitcase. Driven by curiosity, she not only discovers Hana's fate, but also that of George's, who lives in Toronto. He visits her and her class, The Small Wings, to see and touch one of the most precious of Hana's belongings. This blending of past and present is captured in an interesting way, combining both candid interviews with fictional flashbacks.
George's honesty and Fumiko's tireless drive are really captured well, as well as giving the audience an unprecedented glimpse into the life of a victim of the Nazis. From the magic tricks their father used to perform to the bottle full of a young girl's frustrations buried in the back yard, the film is incredibly intimate. Yet at the same time, it takes a global scale when Hana's story travels beyond the Brady's home in the Czech Republic to Japan to Canada and all across Europe. It's a tragic story, to be sure, but it's full of hope and loving memory. The music, I felt, really reflected all those tones, though it could be a bit overwhelming in certain scenes.
The message comes through loud and clear: this must never happen again. Because Hana's story is only one of millions.
What really made this film come alive for me was that after the screening, Larry Weinstein, the director, introduced us to George and his daughter, who had attended the premiere. I must admit, seeing him there after being given such a penetrating look into his suffering and his family, I broke down in tears, like many others. It was a complex mix of deep respect, gratitude, and pride in his courage. And it's a feeling I won't forget. I can only hope that Hana's and George's story will continue to touch lives as it has mine.
EDIT: A comment from Mr. Weinstein himself! "What a nice review... thank you. Very few people have seen this film, so the audience reaction in Victoria was very meaningful to me (as was the documentary award that it won there). And so your comments are very much appreciated. LW"