Kapo is a black and white film that tells the story of a Jewish teenager sent to a concentration camp together with her parents. She manages to survive with the help of a Jewish doctor who gives her the identity of another woman who had died recently. Thus, Edith becomes Nicole and she is no longer a Jew, at least not in the papers. At first she is very sad about her parents' death but as time passed she realized she had to get out of that mood if she wanted to survive. So, she accepts an affair with a German officer even if she is only 14 and she starts getting privileges, becoming with time a Kapo, one of the women prisoners who were in charge with disciplining the other women. She knows it's the only way to survive but same time she lives in deep remorse even though she never shows any feelings.Written by
Nominated for a best foreign picture Oscar in 1960. See more »
In the opening scene, Edith walks past some shops on her way back home. One of the shops look like it belongs to the booming 1950s than the more austere WWII period. There is a toy car or baby push car in the store window that shows the typical car design of the 1950s. See more »
As with my recent viewing of Bernhard Wicki's THE BRIDGE (1959), I was introduced to the film under review via a still from it adorning the large and lavishly-illustrated "War Movies" tome I used to pore over as a kid; actually, apart from a recent Italian TV screening, I only recall a solitary broadcast of it back then one Friday night – this was also true of Pontecorvo's best-known work, THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1965), which I did catch much later on TV and subsequently on the big-screen in London – but, given the adult subject matter, I passed on it. Having now finally caught up with the movie (another title to make the "Wonders In The Dark" all-time top 3.000 list) after all these years, as part of my ongoing Oscar marathon, I must say that it is one of the most miserable viewing experiences I have ever had!
The fall of the Third Reich in mid-1945 brought an unsuspecting world face to face with the shocking truth of Nazi concentration camps; this led to the infamous Nuremberg trials of 1947 and, perhaps inevitably, cinematic depictions of this horrific genocide. The most celebrated of these are Alain Resnais's harrowing short NIGHT AND FOG (1955; detailing the findings at the Auschwitz camp) and Steven Spielberg's Oscar-laden SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993; dealing with a real-life German industrialist who hid thousands of persecuted Jews among his factory employees). KAPO' – being the name given by the captors to the favoured one within each barracks whom they have selected to be its warden – might well be the very first feature-length movie on this theme; while clearly evoking the "Neorealist" school in its unremitting bleakness and dispassionate viewpoint, what is most surprising – in hindsight – is that, in many ways, this also anticipates the reprehensible "Women In Prison" and Nazisploitation subgenres in Euro-Cult fare of the late 1960s and 1970s!
In a somewhat sensationalistic touch, the protagonist who becomes the titular Nazi lackey is a Jew passed off by the camp medic as a French girl after having witnessed her parents' oblivious march towards the gas chamber. She is played by American Susan Strasberg: though we are asked to believe that she is a virginal 14 year-old who soon becomes the young officers' favourite 'lay' (among them Gianni Garko), the actress is effective in delineating the character's trajectory from doe-eyed innocent to callous parasite (even if it seems this is primarily done in order to appease her personal hunger) to hopeless romantic (she becomes enamoured of rebellious Russian POW Laurent Terzieff) to resigned martyr (the heroine's elite position in the camp makes her the ideal, albeit endangered, candidate to switch off the electrically-charged barbed-wire fence that would precipitate a mass escape attempt). Interestingly enough, Strasberg had just been passed over in recreating her Broadway role for George Stevens' screen rendition of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1959).
As expected, the supporting female cast is carefully chosen so as to encompass a wide variety of types among both victims and collaborationists: most notable, however, are Emmanuelle Riva (as the one who initially takes Strasberg under her wing but is then shunned by the new Kapo' and ends up committing suicide via electrocution) and Didi Perego (a Silver Ribbon award winner for Best Supporting Actress as the statuesque leader of the inmates whose outspokenness eventually leads to her being gunned down in cold blood). Pontecorvo (whom I saw at the 2004 Venice Film Festival during a screening of the Michelangelo Antonioni/Wong Kar-Wai/Steven Soderbergh-directed anthology EROS and has since passed away) did not have a prolific career, but his place in the annals of World Cinema is assured on the strength of THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS alone; incidentally, he is also credited with collaborating on Carlo Rustichelli's brooding score. As for co-director Montaldo (whose contribution, whatever it entailed, has never been given its due), he was invited over here a couple of years ago to introduce a number of his films screened as part of some Italian festival – but these were oddly scheduled during the mornings, thus making it impossible for me to attend!
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