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“My People” a film by Anna Rezan: A hymn to love, life & courage
by Alexander Zak
Parallel realities throughout generations …A dialogue of millennial people with their ancestors in regards to history, values, choices and the love for life, which is timeless. A heartwarming message to humanity. The inspiring untold story of the Greek Jews during the Holocaust. Romance in times of the Axis occupation. The fierce Greek resistance and the role of the Christian clergy; unveiled in a hymn to love, unity and courage as it is discovered by a young woman of the millennial generation in her quest to uncover her family’s history.
“My People” is produced, written & directed by Anna Rezan. “My name is Anna…I am Greek by birth and I am Jewish by blood…” It’s clearly an homage to Elia Kazan’s famed quote ” I am a Greek by blood, a Turk by birth and an American because my uncle made a journey.”
Her directorial debut is an auteur’s first triumph as an “adult” filmmaker as “My People” employs cinematic sleight of hand to a very high level; Rezan’s narrative voice, her tenor, tone and choice of accent is excellent. Throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, stars including Cary Grant, Bette Davis, and Orson Welles employed what’s known as a “Mid-Atlantic accent,” a sort of American-British hybrid of speaking that relies on tricks like dropping “R” sounds and softening vowels, in order to convey sophistication on the silver screen. It is another homage to the golden age of Hollywood which in approximation coincides with the years the documentary centers on. Additionally, clear articulation is of paramount importance in a documentary.
Feeling intrigued inside the LA Live Regal Cinemas, I wonder if the filmmaker is indeed a preacher for love, which is sort of the promise of the teaser. I thought to myself that if the film is actually good, it will be a harrowing cultural experience. I naturally assumed that the viewing would be very difficult. Exposure of inhumanity to fellow human beings — is not astonishing: Anna Rezan is raw and quite brutal at times. “My People” could one day be considered a classic, but it is shockingly contemporary. Watching it now, it all feels closer to us than ever before, even as the events depicted are more than half a century in the past. We are aware now, in the year 2020, that the inconceivable is absolutely possible. A wake-up call for human beings to resist and speak up. To resist in respect of our hearts and conscience. Possibly the most essential and universal message to take away from “My People” is that we are making a choice. Every day.
As Rezan embarks on her quest to uncover her family history, she meets six Greek Jewish Holocaust survivors from all areas of Greece. The director manages to weave a tapestry that exposes the complexities of the Greek-Jewish identity. An immense complexity is not to define but to depict what is the sense of Greekness for the Jews of Greece that lived in the country for two millenia. Zafeiris Haitidis vividly presents the realities of World War II Europe on a monochrome at times but also a disaturated canvas. Suddenly, the warmth on the faces of the survivors is an intense statement that they are very much alive. The miracle of living seems to become comprehensible to the unsuspecting viewer.
Academy Award winner, Mitchell Block, who is one of the producers of the film mentioned, “The documentary contains some of the finest archival footage that’s ever been put in a movie”. This statement is, undoubtedly, justified.
Deftly used motifs keep the expansive story expertly on course, giving the documentary a film-like quality that adds to its emotional impact without ever feeling forced. Equally the narrative emphasizes the patriotic sentiment of Greek Jews with the examples of Mordechai Fryzis and the Auschwitz inmates who sang the Greek national anthem before their execution. The Greek resistance was actually extraordinary and it is, unfortunately, not well known that “Were it not for the bravery of the Greeks and their courage…the outcome of WW2 would be undetermined”.
Anna Rezan decided to contribute in making these historical facts known to audiences across the globe. She boldly enumerates most actions of people the Jews call “Righteous among the Nations” and they were not few. As Mr. Makis Makis mentioned during the press conference, “It is a really splendid effort because, for the most part, the information shared is widely unknown.” Without such historical documentaries, many of us would probably have very little knowledge about such important moments in history. For example, Arthur Rubinstein played a concerto for the Jews that had reached the American camp in Morocco. This is, in my humble opinion, seriously cool trivia.
“Make sure to bring some tissues!” was the response I got when I told people I was going to see it. Being quite emotional and often teary-eyed, I heeded the warning.
Nevertheless, this is not a holocaust documentary. It’s a new translation of the documentary format and it is safe to say the director made certain avant garde choices.
The soothing music, composed by Billy Nikolopoulos, serves the gentle treatment of the filmmaker to the Sonderkommandos. On the only revolt that ever occured in such camp? It is successfully now documented for the future generations.
Aided by a carefully orchestrated rhythm in the editing room, there is not an area in which this documentary can be faulted. There are moments of certain issues with technical values and rambles but overall it doesn’t look like the independent low budget production it is. One can experience an aesthetically pleasant result.
The statements of fact and the scenes at Auschwitz certainly made me pause for thought and brought some tears to my eyes…but as I was trying to relax with my own thoughts and refocus on the screen…I did burst into tears. No need for tissues though. Why? Because I realized that I had one more tear coming down my face, but this one was a tear of relief… I felt empowered and inspired. In the ruins of the of the darkest era of the century, I found, not a happy ending, but one affirming that resistance to the wrong side of the unimaginable is possible and can succeed. Certainly I felt that the Greeks have to be proud… but suddenly it became about me… It became personal… cause for a moment I felt really proud to be human… The tagline on my invitation started to make sense.
“A hymn to love, life & courage.”
It seems that Rezan accomplished the seemingly impossible.
“My People” by Anna Rezan had it’s World Premiere in LA, a few weeks ago during the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. Images courtesy of Urbanite Media in collaboration with LAGFF.
Link to My People’s Official Teaser