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TRIESTE 2020

Review: Marek Edelman… And There Was Love in the Ghetto

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- This subtle and moving documentary about romance in the Warsaw Ghetto, as told by a witness and recorded by Jolanta Dylewska, has been screened at Trieste

Review: Marek Edelman… And There Was Love in the Ghetto
Marek Kalita and Aleksandra Popławska in Marek Edelman… And There Was Love in the Ghetto

When you are born and raised in Warsaw, your awareness of the city’s past, including the formation and liquidation of the Jewish ghetto – or simply the “ghetto”, as one tends to call it in Polish – is totally innate. Schools and most books talk about timelines, the names of erstwhile streets, the number of people who perished, the daily horrors, the smugglers, and the heroes who saved children’s lives. That narrative is both horrid and abstract, and this makes films like Jolanta Dylewska’s Marek Edelman… And There Was Love in the Ghetto, which adopts a more personal perspective, really stand out. The movie has just screened at the Trieste Film Festival.

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The late narrator of the film, Marek Edelman, is a well-known figure in Poland: he was one of the few survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a lifelong activist who fought relentlessly for freedom and justice in Poland. On top of all that, he was a brilliant doctor who saved lives on a daily basis. He was also quite a character – direct, charismatic and sometimes snarky. One can see all of this in Dylewska’s film, which combines her conversation with Edelman, re-enactments of the stories he tells, and archive footage.

As the title suggests, the tales are about love, and each one is different from the others. There is one about teenage lovers, one involving a mother and daughter, while yet another revolves around a woman finally getting a good night’s sleep while resting on her beloved’s arm. None of these stories is sentimental; Edelman tells them in a very matter-of-fact way, as if he were recounting a medical case. Sometimes he loses his temper when he doesn’t like the questions asked by Dylewska, whom he knows very well, as she previously made a documentary in which he recounts the events of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising According to Marek Edelman). The new film is based on a book that Edelman wrote with Paula Sawicka, And There Was Love in the Ghetto, and was made in collaboration with Andrzej Wajda and Agnieszka Holland.

Dylewska, who is also a DoP, with her credits including Sergey Dvortsevoy’s Ayka [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Sergey Dvortsevoy
film profile
]
and Tulpan [+see also:
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trailer
film profile
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, directs the live-action scenes in a similar manner – discreet and soft, which makes them all the more powerful. The actors speak no lines, and they move a little like ghosts – both in Edelman’s memories and in the locations of the former ghetto in Warsaw, where the movie was shot. Dylewska includes many close-ups of their faces, which are accompanied by archive footage to reinforce the bond that forms between the story and the audience.

The horror of the so-called Grossaktion and the ghetto’s eradication is too immense to grasp, but the stories of ordinary people who were experiencing love for the first – and sometimes the last – time are relatable and moving. At one point, Edelman mentions that Jews walked in silence from the Umschlagplatz to trains that would take them to death camps (officially, they were told they were being resettled in the East, where they would get food and find work). There was no commotion and no screaming, which makes this image all the more powerful and disturbing. Renowned Polish non-fiction writer Hanna Krall, who penned a book about Edelman, once wrote: “The bigger the suffering, the fewer the words that are necessary,” which Dylewska’s film certainly seems to corroborate.

Marek Edelman… And There Was Love in the Ghetto is a joint effort between Poland and Germany, and was produced by Anna Wydra (for Otter Films), Thanassis Karathanos and Martin Hampel, while the co-producer was Beata Polaczyńska.

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