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BERLINALE 2020 Forum

Review: The Exit of the Trains

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- BERLINALE 2020: Radu Jude and Adrian Cioflâncă’s documentary essay is a necessary and efficient account of the Romanian Holocaust

Review: The Exit of the Trains

Three years after his documentary essay The Dead Nation [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude revisits the genre with The Exit of the Trains [+see also:
trailer
interview: Adrian Cioflâncă
film profile
]
, a film he co-directed with historian Adrian Cioflâncă that is now being shown in the Forum sidebar of the 70th Berlinale. The ultra-minimalistic approach – a succession of official images of the victims – leaves room for an efficient and necessary memorial to the Jews killed in the Romanian city of Iaşi on 29 June 1941 and the days that followed.

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Both in spirit and approach, The Exit of the Trains is a sequel to The Dead Nation, where Jude presented a succession of images taken by a photographer in a small Romanian provincial town and edited them together with voice-over excerpts from the diary of Emil Dorian, a Jewish doctor whose accounts of the growing anti-Semitism in the 1930s and the early 1940s were in stark contrast with the inoffensive images shown on the screen. Similarly, The Exit of the Trains is a string of portraits taken from the passports and various official documents of the victims, edited together with narrated accounts of their deaths, most of them given by the surviving women in the victims’ families.

The documentary is a difficult cinematic experience, but also a very necessary one, as Romanian society is quite prone to negating its role in the Holocaust (and the domestic reactions to Jude’s Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe winner “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
stand as proof of this). And so the feature turns into a haunting memorial to those who were killed that day.

The series of official portraits of the victims, many of them overly solemn (as most official portraits are), do not offer more than the victim’s name and the circumstances of their death, but the audience can easily fill in the blanks, imagining people with rich lives and loving relatives, doctors and clerks, ironmongers and day labourers waking up every day to tend to the various challenges of their businesses and professions. Until the day when, together with thousands of others, they were rounded up and taken to the police station, some of them beaten to death there and some of them shot, with the survivors being sealed in packed train carriages slowly moving under the scorching sun of the Romanian summer. Innocent people beaten to death, shot and killed by asphyxiation, only because of their religion.

And for every image and every victim we see on screen, we learn the harrowing destinies of other victims, the wives, mothers and sisters of those killed that day. Narrated by Jude’s usual collaborators, such as producer Ada Solomon, actor Şerban Pavlu and actress Ioana Iacob, among dozens of others, these accounts offer another perspective on the pogrom, that of the destroyed families who would continue living in poverty and constant fear that a new 29 June would come. At the end, Jude and Cioflâncă show the extent of the horror with a montage of historical pictures taken during those days, a visual sucker punch for all those who say there was no Romanian Holocaust.

The Exit of the Trains was produced by Romania’s microFILM and co-produced by fellow Romanian outfit nomada.solo. The film is being handled internationally by Taskovski Films. It will be released in Romania this autumn.

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