Friday, March 02, 2018

Kapo (1960 film)

Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo and written by Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas, Kapo is the story of a 14-year old Jewish girl dealing with the Holocaust as she is aided by a few to take on a new name to hide from the Nazis. The film is a study of survival as well as what a person will do during one of the most horrific atrocities of humanity where she would endure her own sense of de-humanization. Starring Susan Strasberg, Laurent Terzieff, Emmanuelle Riva, Gianni Garko, and Didi Perego. Kapo is a riveting and haunting film from Gillo Pontecorvo.

The film follows a fourteen-year old Jewish girl who is taken to a concentration camp by the Germans where she later meets a doctor who gives her a new identity as she would eventually become a camp leader during her time in the Holocaust. It’s a film with a simple story yet it’s a study of a woman not just losing her identity but also the need to survive but it would come at great cost where she loses her sense of humanity. The film’s screenplay by Gillo Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas follows the journey that Edith (Susan Strasberg) would take as she returns home from a piano lesson only to see her parents be taken away where she also gets taken and later separated where they would die. Upon meeting this mysterious yet sympathetic doctor who found her escaping a camp where she was to be killed, Edith would take the identity of a dead French thief named Nicole with the help of a political prisoner in Sofia (Didi Perego). Later meeting the prisoner Terese (Emmanuelle Riva) who is a camp translator, Edith would endure abuse and torture that would play into her despair.

The script would also play into Edith’s slow descent where she would engage in activities that would take away her dignity as well as being sympathetic to other prisoners after becomes a camp leader. This growing disconnect to her other prisoners would add a sense of disdain and resentment towards Edith as she would befriend a SS officer named Karl (Gianni Garko) whom she slept with. The film’s third act would mark the arrival of Soviet prisoners-of-war where Sascha (Laurent Terzieff) would provide Edith a return to her humanity but is still torn in her need to survive.

Pontecorvo’s direction is definitely entrancing in terms of its visuals where he would mix in elements of stock footage of World War II and match it with scenes happening in the film as if he’s capturing a moment in time. Shot largely in Yugoslavia, the film does play into a world that is in despair as much of it is shot in areas near the woods or in very dreary locations as if it’s Hell on Earth. There are some wide shots of the locations with characters dealing with their surroundings yet Pontecorvo would emphasize more on intimate shots with the usage of close-ups and medium shots that include scenes inside the houses where the prisoners stay. There are also some chilling moments such as a scene where Sascha is being punished as he has to stand up where in front of him is an electrical wire fence and a guard looking down from a tower to shoot him if he falls backwards as it is shot from above in a crane shot. 

Pontecorvo would also play into these moments that add to the despair of the Holocaust as well as slowly capture Edith’s descent including intricate tracking shots. The film’s climax that relates to the impending end of World War II isn’t just about what the Germans will do to their prisoners but what the prisoners will do in retaliation with Edith in the middle as she is torn with the need to survive but also to help out others who suffered as she did. Overall, Pontecorvo crafts a chilling yet rapturous film about a young Jewish woman’s desperation to survive the Holocaust.

Cinematographers Aleksandar Sekulovic and Goffredo Bellisario do brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography in capturing the stark detail of the locations with its emphasis on natural lighting for the daytime scenes with some low-key lighting for the scenes at night. Editors Roberto Cinquini and Anhela Michelli do excellent work in creating some rhythmic cuts for some of the drama as well as in the action and in its usage of stock footage to match what is happening around the campsites. Production designer Aleksandar Milovic and art director Piero Gherardi do fantastic work with the look of the prison camps as well as some of the towers at the camp. The sound work of Fausto Ancillai and Sandro Occhetti is superb for its low-key yet intense atmosphere to play into the horrors of the camp. The film’s music by Gillo Pontecorvo and Carlo Rustichelli do amazing work with the music with its mixture of eerie orchestral flourishes and ominous string pieces that play into the drama.

The film’s wonderful cast includes a superb performance from Gianni Garko as an SS officer in Karl who befriends Edith unaware of who she really is as he laments over what will happen next while Didi Perego is fantastic as Sofia as a political prisoner who brings Edith to the camp with help of a doctor as she copes with the despair of the camp. Laurent Terzieff is excellent as Sascha as a Soviet POW who falls for Edith as he tries to woo her but also wonders why she is cold towards everyone including him. Emmanuelle Riva is incredible as Terese as a prisoner who would guide Edith on how to survive but would also watch Edith descent greatly to the point that she starts to lose herself and be unable to do her work as a translator. Finally, there’s Susan Strasberg in a phenomenal performance as Edith as a 14-year old Jewish girl who is taken to a concentration camp and later becomes a camp leader as it’s an eerie performance where Strasberg displays that sense of loss and despair into someone who has become disconnected with humanity as a way to survive but at great cost.

Kapo is a sensational film from Gillo Pontecorvo that features a tremendous performance from Susan Strasberg. Along with its ensemble cast including a great supporting turn from Emmanuelle Riva as well as striking visuals and a haunting music score. It’s a film that showcases a woman trying to survive the Holocaust yet would deal with the sense of inhumanity that occurs to the point that she would succumb to her own inhumanity as a way to survive. In the end, Kapo is a spectacular film from Gillo Pontecorvo.

Gillo Pontecorvo Films: (The Wide Blue Road) – The Battle of Algiers - (Burn! (1969 film)) – (Ordo)

© thevoid99 2018

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