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Extraordinary pictures - not so great script
27 July 2007
It is quite an intriguing thing how people react to this movie, judging by IMDb comments: either they label it "masterpiece" or "a sappy, manipulative banalization of the Holocaust". Either 1 or 10 score. I can't understand it. To me, Schindler's List has both merits and flaws. It is a technically perfect film, for example. I think no director can beat Spielberg on that. He is able to film such an overwhelming, astonishing scene as the Warsaw Ghetto raid and simply...well, simply make you buy it. He can offer you a conventional scene, like that Jewish fugitive trying to deceive his Nazi chasers, and provide you a glimpse of his terror so intense that you can even feel it. No other director that I am aware of is able to take advantage of modern technology in a way even remotely close to Spielberg. No one else has the power to offer us wonders, to leave you speechless, to make the unbelievable believable. He did it in Schindler's List, then in Prince of Egypt, then in Private Ryan (perhaps the most amazing visual experience in my life). Even Munich shrinks your guts in the shooting scenes.

Unfortunately for Spielberg, though, there is more in movies than technical ability. The man has a knack for sappiness, for easy morals. Now come on, a movie about the Holocaust, focusing on the Jews? Yet one more mouthful of the same porridge that we have been spoon-fed for decades? And then "La Amistad", a film intended to teach that slavery is wrong? Private Ryan, which focuses on how heroic American soldiers were during WWII, support our troops and honor the vets? Not exactly controversial matters, I am afraid. To make things worse, Spielberg doesn't make the least attempt to blur the simplistic premise. His Germans are devils, his victims (Jews, black slaves) are pure, noble and innocent all along and without exception. And critics are right: he is too sentimental, too sappy. It grows just awkward, in some extreme cases (I have in mind a couple scenes from Private Ryan, right now).

And then there is the annoying (to me, at least) political undertones of his films. In Schindler's list, for example, the final scene is very revealing. The Jews escape the factory and meet a Soviet soldier. "What can we do" "If I were you, I wouldn't go East. They don't like you there. Neither I would go west". Next scene: we see all the survivors in modern Israel. Get it? Israel is the shelter of Jews against the intolerance of...well, of everyone else, East and West alike. It would be enough to show that some Jews became traitors and betrayed his ilk, it would suffice to show that many interns (millions) in the camps were not Jews, it would make the film much more complex and deeper if we were offered some hint that, well, camps were run in a good measure by the interns themselves, the Kapos, who could be as ruthless as the SS. In fact, we are not even allowed to understand that the 30s and 40s were a time of strong political commitment and that many of those Jews were Socialists or Communists, and that they often created support nets inside the very camps. Does Mr. Spielberg fear we would fail to sympathized with the victims if we understood that they were three-dimensional human beings? Does he really regard his viewers THAT dumb?
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