Nathan-ism: Review

Nathan-ism: Review

Nathan-ism: Review. By Samhith Ankam.

Art allows one to parse their experiences. It allows one to retroactively understand how it affected oneself. It can make a memory exist tangibly, to become a part of the collective history without getting lost in the death of the individual, but Elan Golod, the director, is trying to find legitimacy before awarding Nathan Hilu’s memories as a US soldier in Nazi Germany that status.

All of it is important in the push against an increasing denial of the Holocaust, to tell the past without cracks to fuel these claims. The problem is that it causes the documentary to take a step back from the emotion running through these images and instead lean into a procedural in making a documentary. What to keep and what not to keep and is it worth making it at all. The scrutinization is done, mostly, indirectly with historians, etc., as it’s terrified to ask the hard questions at the source; it can’t help but feel like a failure to get the tension between validation and a need to be heard to overlap, to crack open Nathan for us.

So much of this is constructed, not archival footage where mise-en-scene is tethered in time. And yet, formally, this is mostly rudimentary – the camera is framed not to interrogate but to spend time with the people it looks at, which causes this to lack a drive cinematically even if the words being said holds weight in the acceptance of art as documentation at large.

While the sketch-pad visualization of the narrated stories mimics Nathan’s art, which he found as an outlet for his experiences, Elan’s recreations lack soul. When the camera holds on Nathan’s hands, drawing almost obsessively, it feels so cathartic in ways that don’t translate with digitized images. That rush to insert new lines as if Nathan is losing your interest, constantly adding addendums so details don’t get lost in the air, plays directly into the tension that’s so direly needed here, of Nathan lonely living with his thoughts.

The mix between the aesthetics of Nathan’s art and that of pure documentation causes omissions from either in scenes to feel quite odd – especially when the font for the text labels introducing the images, such as Laura Kruger, who’s the curator of the Hebrew Union College Museum, doesn’t continue the sketched-out look.

In the end, there is some true devastation in how it plays out, but it feels so indirect with its engagement of Nathan to feel worthwhile in swaying opinion.


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