Alan Zeitlin | Special to the JT
Based on the true story of a 12-year-old’s actions during the Holocaust, the film made an Oscar qualifying round.
Few of us will ever get an opportunity to take revenge.
“NAKAM” is a masterful short film about a Jewish boy who gets a rare chance to do just that, but may have to risk the life of his friend in the process.
Mitka, 12, knows his family was murdered by the Nazis. A gifted violin player, he plays songs with his friend, a man who plays piano. Mitka works with the Ukrainian Jewish resistance, and a Nazi named Seeger likes his performance and wants him to play the next night where SS officers will be gathering for a dinner.
With access to explosives, he has an opportunity to get blood for blood. But should he? There is a chance he could get caught and that his friend will be killed along with the Nazis.
Anton Krymskiy nails the role of a boy who tries not to let anger consume him. Seeger is played perfectly by Peter Miklusz, who strikes the right balance of a man who appears to care. Though when Anton asks a question that shows nerve, we see Seeger’s eyes flare and realize that he could be a savage in a second.
The film, which has shown at a number of international festivals, is directed by Andreas Kessler with Fabien Virayie as its screenwriter.
The short, which is about 30 minutes, is based on the true story of Mordechai “Motele” Schlein who was in a hiding place when his family was taken and sent to Auschwitz. He escaped to the forest with only his violin. He got a job playing violin at a soldiers’ club and spied on them. He found a room in the basement with a crack and realized that he could smuggle explosives in his violin case and place them there. He impressed the Nazis due to his talent with the violin but could have been killed at any moment if they discovered that he was Jewish.
Moshe Gildennman, the resistance leader who advised Schlein, brought the violin to Israel. It was restored by Violins of Hope, an organization that educates about the Holocaust by tracing the meaningfulness of instruments.
Kessler noted that eight years ago, he read an article about violins discovered from the Holocaust and was fascinated by the story of Schlein. “I knew I wanted to make a film about it,” he said. “I wanted to explore these psychological questions.”
‘He thinks it is his duty’
In a phone interview from Germany, Kessler, 32, said he jumped in the air when he found out that his work made the first round to qualify for the Oscars in the live-action short film category. Current events make it all that more powerful.
“In a tragic way, it is even more relevant due to the war in Ukraine,” he acknowledged.
In related news, Kessler added that he was surprised to see recent pictures showing Americans in Los Angeles with signs saying “Kanye West Was Right About Jews” and doing the “Heil Hitler” salute with their right hands — an act he noted that is illegal in Germany.
“I think it’s completely crazy,” he said. “I have Jewish friends in LA, and I was really shocked to see that. With this film, maybe it doesn’t change the mindsets of everyone, but we want to see the lessons from the past and not forget about them.”
Kessler said the two main actors both had the qualities he sought for this particular work. Krymskiy is able to show a bit of range — “he thinks it is his duty, but struggles to make the right decision” — and Miklusz “had he feels a special, strange aura.”
“I was looking for someone who in a world where there was no war or hate, maybe he would have some genuine interest in this boy, but of course, with the Nazi regime, he can’t,” he explained. “We can see that even though he has moments where he cared about the boy, if he finds out the truth, he wouldn’t hesitate to be brutal.”
The film has one surprise in the middle and an unexpected twist at the end.
“NAKAM” will make you wonder if you would have the guts, the skill and the will to take revenge for your family, even at the risk of a friend.