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Review: The Dead and The Living

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It was my grandfather


- The main character in Barbara Albert's film discovers that her grandfather was an official in the SS. Guilt, forgiveness and heritage are at the centre of this story, which is partly autobiographical.

Review: The Dead and The Living

A journey across Europe discovering family secrets, from Berlin to Vienna, Warsaw to Romania, questioning history and those who are no longer with us. The journey belongs to Sita, the main character in a new film by Austrian director and producer Barbara Albert, The Dead and the Living [+see also:
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. A dialogue between the living and the dead, past and present, which confronts older and younger generations. The latter want to know, the former want to forget.

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Sita (Anna Fischer) is a young Austrian woman with Romanian origins living in Berlin, studying German at university. She jogs, goes around on a Vespa, takes part in talent show try-outs and loves without bounds. She goes to Vienna to celebrate her grandfather's (Hanns Schuschnig) 95th birthday and discovers from an old photo that her father's father has a terrible, hidden side, which is impossible to own up to: he was in the SS during World War II. Sita decides to stay in Vienna a little longer. There, she starts digging through books, archives and images. She is looking for a way to forgive.

Only through knowing will Sita be able to forgive. Her father (August Zirner) disagrees. For him, having been born in a concentration camp where his father was working, digging up the past will only bring pain. He refuses to speak, and instead finds refuge from his traumas by singing. Albert's film depicts a clash between generations, but also shows that Sita is not alone. "Many people come here, like her", a Warsaw museum worker tells her, when, thanks to archives, she discovers that her grandfather worked at Auschwitz.

The revealing of the truth is done through a video in which Sita's grandfather talks openly and remembers: "it was like a dream, it wasn't me." Dirty and disturbing images interrupt the otherwise formal and accurate film with a wave of shame and unavoidability. There is no remorse, and going back is not possible. Reality, slammed in your face, makes you cry. The only thing to be done is look ahead and get going again.

The Dead and the Living could be defined as a historical road movie. Sita is continuously on the move, in the train, in an airplane, in a bus, looking through documents, at photos, watching footage. The spectator travels with her, reads diaries, and discovers elements from the past which encroach on the present. The spectator goes to demonstrations and occupations, mingles with other Europeans, listens to their stories and expectations. It is an important film because it speaks of common roots and pains through an individual story. The love that is born between Sita and Israeli Jocquin (Itay Tiran) symbolises a possible peace making. The past has been put to rest. To new generations, the future is a united Europe.

(Translated from Italian)


international title: The Dead and the Living
original title: Die Lebenden
country: Austria, Poland, Germany
sales agent: Films Distribution
year: 2012
directed by: Barbara Albert
screenplay: Barbara Albert
cast: Anna Fischer, Hanns Schuschnig, August Zirner, Itay Tiran, Daniela Sea, Winfried Glatzeder

main awards/selection

Festival del Cinema Europeo di Lecce 2013 Cineuropa Prize
Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival 2012 
Göteborg International Film Festival 2013 
Athens Film Festival 2013 

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