Thursday, November 13, 2014

DOC NYC ’14: When People Die They Sing Songs

Regina Gluckman survived the side of Casablanca we never see in the classic Michael Curtiz film. Although she and he husband escaped from occupied Belgium in the nick of time, they spent most of the war as prisoners of Vichy’s Camp Sidi Al Ayachi and Camp Bou Arfa. Obviously, she has important stories to tell, but age and time are stealing her capacity to articulate them. Olga Lvoff documents how music therapy helps Gluckman maintain connections to her daughter and their family history in the Oscar short-listed short documentary When People Die They Sing Songs (trailer here), which screens during this year’s DOC NYC.

Gluckman survived her long ordeal in the Moroccan camps. Her husband lived through it, but his psyche would be irreparably damaged. Sonia Gluckman hardy knew her father, but her relationship with her mother is long and complex. When her mother started showing the adverse effects of a stroke, Gluckman nursed her back to physical health, but was keenly aware of the time lost for documenting her survival story.

Recognizing the difficult realities for what they are, Gluckman discovers her mother’s regular music therapy sessions are one of the best ways to draw her out. Gluckman happily sings the French and Yiddish songs of her youth, as her therapist gamely accompanies on the fly. Time is not on their side, but at least she is able to get some meaningful answers from her mother.

Arguably, the Moroccan Vichy camps constitute an aspect of Holocaust history that has not been widely covered in film and literature, which alone makes WPDTSS a valuable film. Yet, perhaps its most moving sequence addresses their 9/11 experiences. Necessarily colored by prior family tragedies, it sort of brings matters full circle.

Nominated for a student Oscar, WPDTSS is a sensitive film that does not belabor its painful ironies. Typically, remembrance is the guiding principle of Holocaust documentaries, but it is becoming increasingly difficult act for Gluckman. Yet, unlike far too many members of her family, she survived to be plagued by the consequences of old age. Featuring a supportive but evocative soundtrack, Lvoff’s film has something to add to our understanding of history as well as the issues of aging. Respectfully recommended, When People Die They Sing Songs screens this Sunday (11/16) on a double bill with The Lion’s Mouth Opens, as part of DOC NYC 2014.