Triumph of the Spirit (1989) Poster

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Hang on to your hats
mailbob3 March 2007
The events depicted in the movie are well documented in historical accounts of the concentration camp experience, and according to these accounts they are not overstated in this film. Director Robert M. Young's background in making documentaries makes this docu-drama all that much more devastating. This is the holocaust, without frills, humor, or preaching. It is what it is. I wonder about other comments criticizing the film because it is too depressing. Gee, sorry if the holocaust ruined your evening. If you don't think you can take the raw experience, don't watch the film. Of course it is depressing, more than that. However, having watched it, I can say I can better understand and appreciate the creation of the state of Israel after the war. Mr. Young did an excellent job of film making on an extremely sensitive topic. Incidentally, he was co-writer on one of my all time favorite films, a 1964 low budget black and white gem, "Nothing But a Man." Also a sleeper which received extensive critical praise but not much exposure, I believe it to be hands down the best film depicting the black experience in America, particularly southern blacks in early 1960's at the apex of the civil rights movement. See my review on this site. Don't miss it.
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Confronting the hard choices
tonyro21 February 2002
Triumph of the Spirit is a film about people who have made choices in one of the most horrific situations--the Auschwitz death camp. Think of all the choices made by Salamo Arousch and those nearest to him. His sister Julie chooses to stay with her little girl rather than give the child over to her mother and thus get picked for the labour camp (somewhat curious that the SS officer doing the selection gave Julie the option of living). Avram refuses to join the Sonderkommando and is killed by the Nazis. Salamo chooses to box to keep his father alive a little while longer. Allegra chooses to believe her sister Helena who has chosen to make up a story about pregnancy. Jocko Levy has chosen to become a Kapo only to be tossed out by the Nazis when he is no longer healthy.

It was the magnitude of the choices that stunned me when I saw the film when it came out. The film presents us with an unrelenting series of situations and choices to be made. How would any of us have behaved if we had been in the same situation?

Triumph of the Spirit made me squirm because it showed me just how complex the Holocaust experience was for individuals who had to make life and death decisions. This is what lifts Triumph of the Spirit way above most other Holocaust films.
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kikiloveslegwarmers10 February 2006
Just finished seeing Triumph of the Spirit. What a sad, bleak, dark, and depressing film.

This was based on the true story of Greek Balkins Middleweight Champion Salamo Arouch who was undefeated before World War II. Once the Nazi army invades Greece, Arouch, his entire family, and all the Jews in Greece are shipped off to the Nazi death camp in Austwitz.

With-in moments, all the women in Arouch's family are murdered in the gas showers. He is forced with his family and brother to work at slave-labor. Arouch is brutalized by a camp Kapo who happens to be a professional boxer as well. In a brutal scene, Arouch and the Kapo have a fist fight with Arouch scoring a knockout and a Nazi camp guard finishes off the Kapo with a gun shot to the head. Arouch is then forced to box in the camp for the Nazi officers who bet on the "boxing" matches. Only problem, the losing boxer ends up the "chimney stack".

A heart-wrenching and brutal story. Shocking to realize that not only did the Nazi murder, torture, starve and kill the inmates at Auswitz, but they also forced all the professional Jewish boxers to put on "Galdiator" matches for their entertainment.

The Triumph of The Spirt is a triumph of film-making. A very depressing one at that.
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Powerful and Uncompromising Film
John Bale4 October 2005
Triumph of the Spirit takes an uncompromising view of the horrors of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, dealing with the fate of Greek gypsies, and particularly a boxing Champion Salamo Arouch who fights to amuse the brutal Nazi Officers, enabling his father's and his own survival. He was allowed life while his losing opponents perished. Based on a true story, without doubt the most devastating film ever made on the topic of death camps, it is extremely realistic in its presentation having been filmed in the bleak winter of 1989 on location in Auschwitz, and that shows. It must have effected the cast and the crew extremely. Willem Defoe's performance proves the depth of feeling that was thus achieved, and this is reflected by the whole cast. Certainly not an easy film to watch, but it is rewarding and extremely moving to those who make the effort. Perhaps in some small way this film might prevent such evil being perpetrated on the world again. A remarkable achievement that predates and eclipses Schindler's List, yet sadly not widely shown.
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one of the best.........
patpar635 January 2002
this is by far one of the best movies on the holocaust i've seen. what makes this different from the rest is that it focuses on greek jews, aka "gypsies" in the concentration camps. this story is based on fact. it's about the life of Salamo Arouch, who was a boxer before the war and boxing is part of what helped him survive. a wonderful story of how one man's love for his family and friends, and his own fierce spirit, allowed him to overcome the atrocities at hand and live to tell his that inspires all who see it.
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Driven by performances, fueled by history.
Agniv Sen27 November 2012
Let us face it, holocaust surrounding second world war and the Nazi torture of Jews have become a thoroughly over-explored topic. Done to death, yes, but this movie came out in 1989! There was no Schindler's List, no Sorstalanság, no Boy in Striped Pyjama or Life is Beautiful... hell, even Europa Europa or the Last Butterfly released after this movie!

So, Triumph of the Spirit could easily have been a reference material for many a modern classic on holocaust. Even when seen as a standalone movie without the predecessors or successors, this is a good movie. The story is based on true incidents, hence it is quite interesting; historically - almost accurate and direction wise - at par with the best. Most of the characters had been explored richly and the cause- effect relationship behind every sub-plot is quite pronounced. The movie never borders on obscurity, yet ends it with a depth that is so often lacking in movies based on real life.

Performance wise Willem Dafoe and Robert Loggia stands out magnificently. Everyone else does their bit to perfection... no hiccups in acting. Sometimes, a bit of production value is missing that we are so used to these days. (Like in the air-raid scene towards the end, any typical Hollywood movie these days would have wonderful SFX showing allied aircrafts and what not... but here it was just the sound Foley and a bit of pyrotechnic... quite old school but very effective).

If you are a true movie buff and looking forward to relive the 80s style of movie production, go for it. You won't be disappointed.
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One of the best holocaust movies I've seen
TBJCSKCNRRQTreviews23 November 2013
When Greece was invaded, its Jews were sent to Auschwitz. Among them was boxing champ Salamo(Dafoe, determined) and his family. When it is discovered that he can fight, he is put in the ring for the entertainment of the SS officers. This doesn't mean that they're safe, not even with him making a contact with a gypsy(Olmos) who is also granted a temporary "tolerance". Based on a true story.

This is among the most detailed, authentic and gripping pictures about its subject that I know of. The sheer volume of awful events, ways to be singled out and murdered and lies told by Nazis to avoid panic is impressive for being fit into the 1 hour 51 and a half minute running time. Production values are high. Acting is great for all concerned, with numerous subtle performances.

Going to great lengths to avoid being exploitative, this has few on-screen deaths, piles of dead and little naked skin. And yet, so much is communicated. Some recurring images convey far more than gore ever could. A reaction shot of conveys the horror inside the crematorium. And we know exactly what it means when we see the smoke from its chimney, or a train pulling in to, as my father solemnly put it as we watched it together, "the end of the line".

There is a lot of disturbing, and some bloody, content in this. I wholeheartedly recommend this to everyone old enough to handle the material. 7/10
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Boxing for life in a death camp
Koustubh Bhattacharya24 September 2008
This is an exceptional tale of an extremely talented and gifted sportsman surviving an immoral, insane, racist, despotic ideology through the one thing he knows best, boxing. It's an ode to a man refusing to accept the obvious fate and fighting to stay alive in spite of the total degeneration and breakdown of all humanity around him. In a way I compare this movie to 'The Pianist' and unlike many other holocaust movies, this movie depicts the protagonist fighting back his tormentors and even bettering them as they hate him for winning every time. All this time he is like a Gladiator, fighting other men who are in same position as his, just to entertain ruthless Nazi officials while he is constantly aware that if he loose he would surely die. The movie is aptly named after Salamo's undying perseverance for life where his soul was been trampled. The death camp scenes sure hint that movies like Schindler's list and life is beautiful borrow heavily in visual style from this movie. Though the violence in the movie is more of suggestive and less graphic than its successors yet it proves quite moving due to a very convincing performance of William Dafoe (I am sure he did work hard to get in shape and develop such agility for a boxer), and to the fact that all this happened in reality. Also the soundtrack was successful in carrying the heaviness of the movie. Sure it is a seriously made movie on one of the most shameful happenings of modern human history. But at one point it can also be seen as a great boxing movie. It is like capturing the psychology of a tormented and tortured warrior, and the movie does that well.
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Those rascally Nazis just won't leave the Jews alone
helpless_dancer23 April 2000
After being taken with his family to a Nazi death camp, a man is forced to box his fellow inmates for the entertainment of the camp officials. In constant fear for his life, as well as that of his family, he must endure a living hell just to survive. This tale of the concentration camp has been done and re-done, but this was a fresh look at that time in history. Well worth seeing.
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Worth A Place Of Honour On Any List Of Holocaust Films
sddavis6314 July 2015
Somehow, in thinking of the horrors of the Holocaust, thoughts of Greece do not spring readily to mind. And yet, obviously there were Jews in Greece, and many were interned after the Nazis occupied Greece in 1941. "Triumph Of The Spirit" follows the story of Salamo Arouch, a Greek champion boxer who is among those sent to Auschwitz.

Arouch's story is interesting. He uses boxing as a way of staying alive - fighting other prisoners for the entertainment of Nazi officers and officials, knowing full well that those he defeats are destined almost certainly for execution - and that the same fate awaited him if he were to lose. The movie is rife with reflection on collaboration. The Sonderkommandos (Jews who actively worked with the Nazis in exchange for privileges which included perhaps a few extra months of life) are front and centre in this, and we see various internees doing various things to placate the Nazis, to earn favour with them - and, in the circumstances, who can blame them. They were uprooted from often comfortable lives and placed almost literally into hell. Defiance might have been the more noble choice, but some form of collaboration was more practical. But the choice was never easy, and consciences were surely wounded as those decisions were made. Arouch was played by Willem Defoe - not my favourite actor, but he handled the part quite well. Some license was taken with his story, as is almost always the case when a story "based on fact" is portrayed, but basically from what I've been able to learn the broad sweep of Arouch's story is told. Really, though, Arouch fades into the background in this - or, at least, he did for me.

It was the sheer brutality of Auschwitz and of Nazism that was the engine driving this movie forward. It's a realistic and gripping portrayal of the conditions in the camp - all under the slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" - "work makes free" - the slogan that appeared over the gates entering Auschwitz. It makes what happened inside the camp sound almost noble, but there was nothing noble about the type of work done in Auschwitz, and it had nothing to do with freedom. That was made very clear throughout this film. It was, perhaps, the closest thing to hell that any of the inmates could have possibly imagined. Many died, and those who survived were scarred for life, left empty by the experience. The last scene, I thought, portrayed this quite hauntingly, as Arouch - who survived - wanders lost and aimless away from the camp after liberation, not knowing where he was going or what he would find. His story has a "happy" ending filled with marriage and children and grandchildren, but how happy could it have really been, all things considered.

This isn't the best movie about the Holocaust ever made, but it is one that stays with the viewer, and it's one that provides a gripping portrayal of life inside perhaps the most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps. (8/10)
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An untold story from one of history's darkest chapters
Alyssa Black (Aly200)13 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Throughout history many have preferred to forget the atrocities of the Holocaust during World War II. However Hollywood has helped to keep this important event alive thanks to films like "Life is Beautiful", "Schindler's List" and "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", but sometimes there are stories that go unrecognized or forgotten. Director Robert M. Young decided to take the lesser known story of Holocaust survivor Salamo Arouch and bring it to the masses.

Salamo and his family (heritage of Jewish Greeks) are first seen living their lives happily just before the Nazis invade their village and ship the Jewish citizens off to concentration camps, specifically the dreaded Auschwitz. The film follows the Arouch family's struggle to struggle, specifically showing the male members of the family and also the perspectives of Allegra, Salamo's fiancée, and her sister on the women's side of Auschwitz.

In the pivotal role of Salamo is an underrated performance by A-list star Willem Dafoe. Portraying a strong-willed survivor, but also a man who loses nearly every person he loves, the emotion of Dafoe's performance is raw and heartbreaking. Going from a carefree man with the world in the palm of his hand to a prisoner fighting (literally) to survive the harsh environment of Auschwitz. Dafoe's costar chemistry is in top form from a touchingly sweet affection for Wendy Gazelle as Allegra, a believable son to Robert Loggia who plays his father and a tenuous friendship with Edward James Olmos as Gypsy, the officer who aids Salamo by giving him a chance to use his boxing talents as well as a better (using the term loosely) job within the camp due to Salamo's consistent winning streak. Dafoe is an adept fighter, with a naturally thin frame and limber muscle, the actor demonstrates adept skill in the boxing arena. However as things grow from bad to worse for Salamo, Dafoe portrays the right amount of emotion that expresses the character's inner pain such as the horrible losses of his brother (shot for refusing to work in the crematorium) and father (executed in the gas chamber due to his age and no longer useful for labor to the officers of the camp), and fear at never seeing his beloved Allegra again. By the film's close we are as exhausted as Salamo and hope for a happy ending after so much horror.

The film's narrative is quite dark and depressing due to the subject of the Holocaust and its atrocious violence. Prisoners were forced to march for hours on end, beaten if they tried to seek additional food or refusal to cooperate, many were shot and gassed if their usefulness had ended and there is the violence of the boxing ring when we watch our protagonist fight. It gets bloody and exhausting as we hope that things can't get worse for the characters, but knowing the history of what occurred during the Holocaust we know it is far from over until the Allied Powers finally liberated the camp in 1944.

See this film as soon as you can, but keep some tissues on standby cause this is gonna make you cry.
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a problematic Holocaust drama
Michael Neumann11 January 2011
The true story of Greek boxer and Holocaust survivor Salamo Arouch mercifully avoids the Rocky-goes-to-Auschwitz game, but it does make the tactical error of turning life in a Nazi death camp into little more than a tear-jerking melodrama. The against-the-odds implications of the title (a clever inversion of Leni Riefenstahl's 'Triumph of the Will') are also misleading, since outside of a few token bouts for the entertainment of German officers the ironies of the fight-to-survive boxing scenario are all but ignored.

The film's principle distinction is that was shot on location at Auschwitz-Birkenau, unhappily so, because the disturbing authenticity of the setting only emphasizes the superficiality of the story. No amount of watered down histrionics could ever communicate the true horror of the Holocaust, and in real life there was no stirring, Dolby-stereo music score to accompany the prisoners into the gas chambers, and no tactful cutting away to the next scene at the last moment. Sincere intentions only make it a bogus David vs. Goliath fable, set (and photographed) in Hell.

Note: see 'The Boxer and Death' (1963, Czechoslovakia) for a more honest, ambiguous, and compelling treatment of essentially the same story.
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Yet another very good account of the Holocoust. Good acting. Serious.
nz man8 March 2000
Well acted, edited, cast, and scripted. Based on a real life person, a Greek boxer who fought in the Olympics.

Since it portrays the Holocoust so well, this is the sort of film that all high school students should see.

The only problem that I have with this film is that it was too heavy for me. I was more atuned to a light romance or action-comedy. Too much seriousness, of horrible inhumanity, of brutal mass killings... it makes me weary.

By contrast, the cleverness of the more recent film "Life is Beautiful" aka "La Vita è bella" is that it adds humour, vitality and hope to the extreme dire situation of the Holocoust.

Nevertheless, 'Triumph' is a quality film.
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