When a film wins an Oscar, we expect it to shine, as well as move us toward a new understanding of the world. And The Long Way Home, which took this year's Academy Award for best documentary feature, does illuminate quite a few dark corners of modern history on its way to a hopeful though certainly controversial conclusion.
On one level, Home tells a forgotten story: the saga of the release of Jewish survivors from Nazi concentration camps in 1945 and their apparent dispersal throughout Europe. The three-year period from 1945 to 1948, as Mark Jonathan Harris' film so painstakingly shows, is one of those locked drawers of history that many would rather leave undisturbed.
Combining archival footage with present-day testimonies from survivors and former soldiers alike, Harris shows the Allied liberators of Europe tripping over themselves in their inability to assist Jews caught in the limbo of displaced person internment camps. Conditions in those barbed wire-enclosed compounds were numbingly familiar to their inhabitants -- calling up memories of such hells-on-earth as Dachau, Majdanek and Treblinka.
Three quarters of Home is devastatingly effective. Its analysis of Britain's reluctance to allow mass immigration of Jews into Palestine hits the nail right on the old colonialist head. The film sees a bitter irony in the Labour government's inability to act any differently from its Conservative predecessors when it came to maintaining British self-interests (i.e. oil supplies) in the Middle East. And although neither the voice-over narrator (a fine, sobering job by Morgan Freeman) nor any of the eyewitnesses mentions "imperialism," we soon get of whiff of its telltale odor wafting over the proceedings.
In fact, Home comes up with a vision of history similar to the one proposed by Bernard-Henri Levy's brilliant 1994 documentary Bosna!: The major Western powers really don't give a damn about oppressed minorities such as the Jews and Bosnians; international politics is motivated not by a sense of justice, but by power deals, cynicism and greed.
But The Long Way Home's one problem, which grows more obvious in the film's last half hour, is that it ends up sounding like Zionist wishful thinking. Offering an idealistic version of the founding of the state of Israel, it makes no mention of the Palestinian question, as if ignoring the issue would make it go away.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected].