Published Nov 05, 2009Screening at this year's Hot Docs Festival, with a warm critical reception, the touching and cleverly edited Inside Hana's Suitcase rolls out to broader audiences just in time for Remembrance Day, delivering a history lesson marginally more engaging than the black & white variety on television.
Those looking for a magnanimous narrative reminder of WWII atrocities and the needless suffering that intolerance brings could do much worse than this well-intentioned and kid-friendly look at the life of Hana Brady, a victim in Auschwitz at the tender age of 13.
With a split, time-shifting narrative, the documentary follows Japanese schoolteacher Fumika Ishioka after she receives a suitcase, on loan from the Auschwitz museum, in an effort to teach her students about the Holocaust. Interspersed with her investigation and analysis of the suitcase and its few contents are interviews with George Brady, the surviving brother of the titular Hana, who recounts his experiences with his sister and the concentration camp.
While the former exploration provides context, as outlined through rehearsed dialogue from alacritous schoolchildren, the latter storyline provides a heart-wrenching centre, despite some dreadful recreated footage. Mentions of an informal magazine created within the camp, along with Hana's tendency to save her older brother a weekly confection, humanize the event and draw the audience into a form of identification from which it's difficult to shy away.
Still, for all of its merits, there is an onerous sense to the preceding that makes the undertaking of watching the film seem more like a chore than an act of natural engagement. It's the sort of thing that one respects, rather than readily anticipates, given its weight and familiar significance.
Worthy, dignified and certainly noble, there's an overall safety that leaves the documentary feeling important but not quite as lasting as it should. (Alliance)