Triumph of the Spirit (1989)
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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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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.
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.