Monday, March 28, 2011

Canadian Animation: I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors

According to Bernice Eisenstein, prisoners often referred to the corner of the Birkenau-Auschwitz where their confiscated property was warehoused as “Canada,” because it represented a land of abundance. After their liberation from the notorious concentration camp, her parents resettled in the real Canada. While they led a life of pleasant middle class respectability, Eisenstein grew up profoundly aware of the significance of their experiences during the war. It was an issue she continued to grapple with in her illustrated memoir, I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors, which has been adapted as an animated short film by Ann Marie Fleming for the National Film Board of Canada. Selected by the Toronto International Film Festival as one of the ten best shorts of the past year, Child (trailer here) screens this coming Friday in Los Angeles.

In 1961, Eisenstein’s extended family gathered to watch the Eichmann trial televised from Israel. It was the first time she began to grasp the enormity of her parents’ experiences. She subsequently sought out Holocaust books and films in a way she likens to a drug addict seeking a fix. Ironically, Eisenstein’s forthright narration explains how the lack of tragedy in her own life made her feel something of an outsider within her immediate family and their wider social circle, all of whom were survivors.

Frankly, Child is a bit edgier than typical Holocaust-related films, with Eisenstein even admitting to occasionally trading on her parents’ history for sympathy or status among her peers. Yet, there are parts that are quite touching, like the story behind her late father’s wedding ring. Fleming perfectly adapts the art of Eisenstein’s pseudo-graphic novel for the screen, developing some powerful imagery, like the swastika patterns that morph into the notorious death camp.

Indeed, Child is consistently interesting visually, incorporating expressive representations of the Eisensteins with more abstractly symbolic sequences. It sounds great too, thanks to a jazzy soundtrack (with some appealing bass walking from Éric Lagacé), often hinting at klezmer, but not to the point of cliché. Recommended both to animation enthusiasts and those interested in its serious themes, Child screens this Friday (4/1) at Laemmle Sunset 5.

(Photos © National Film Board of Canada)