In “Final Account,” the filmmaker Luke Holland interviews a series of erstwhile Nazi functionaries: older men and women who seem to have spent a lifetime perfecting the use of the passive voice. Heinrich Schulze, a former Wehrmacht fighter, shows Holland his family farm where a group of escapees from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp once hid until they were “picked up.”
By whom? Holland asks. And how did they know the prisoners were hiding there? Schulze answers after a pause: “Well, we discovered them and reported it.”
“Final Account” captures an array of such evasive pauses, phrases and gestures that belie the delusions required to live with oneself after participating — however incidentally — in unimaginable horrors. In dry talking-head segments, the interviewees cite innocuous reasons for having joined the SS as children: the enticing uniforms, the sports, the camaraderie. By the time they get to their recollections of guarding gas chambers and monitoring forced labor, most fumble for words. A few respond with outright denial, while others grapple with the term “perpetrator,” trying it on uneasily for size.
The film proceeds in an unadorned, sequential style, as if gathering evidence for an amnesiac world. But there’s one moment that breaks out of this archival veneer. During a college seminar, a student challenges a former SS soldier’s admission of shame, suggesting that he has more to fear from immigrants than his own countrymen. Nearly in tears, the ex-soldier looks remorsefully at Holland — the grandson of victims of the Holocaust — as he implores the students not to be blinded. It’s a stinging reminder of what these interviews represent: that the past is awfully close to the present.
Rated PG-13 for disturbing images and descriptions of genocide. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.
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