SHTTL, although not publicly released, has garnered acclaim and accolades at various film festivals (*1). I had the privilege of watching it during a recent screening at the Montreal Holocaust Museum.
Among the four movies, SHTTL stands out as the most challenging yet profoundly rewarding. The narrative unfolds in a Ukrainian forest, weaving a Hasidic folk story around two young men embarking on a journey. Their arrival at a bustling market, where familiar faces recognize them, sets the stage for a complex tale. Amidst a backdrop of a Soviet manager, overlapping conversations, and references to the protagonist’s former girlfriend—the Rabbi’s daughter, engaged to be married that weekend—the film ventures into dreamy sequences with the protagonist’s deceased mother, encounters with his father, and surreal moments in a synagogue with the Rebbe and the congregation. The audience is immersed in a 24-hour snapshot of life in an obscure Ukrainian village near the Polish border.
SHTTL skillfully immerses viewers into the pre-Nazi invasion era of Ukraine, portraying the intricacies of village life as an engaged observer. The film adeptly hints at the dynamics between religious and secular Jews, Russian occupiers, and other neighbours, showcasing the complexities of their relationships.
On the 22nd of June 1941, German troops launched Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union. From the point of view of the Nazis, this was not an ordinary military conflict but a battle against the chief ideological and racial enemies of the German nation…
At the rear of the German army were four Einsatzgruppen-special units whose task was to fight against ideological opponents. They were required to kill all Communist functionaries, Jews holding party and state functions, and other radical elements. In reality, however, the main role of these units was to massacre the Jewish communities.
To begin with, only Jewish men were murdered, but soon, women and children were also being killed. The largest single massacre was the execution of over 30,000 Kievan Jews in Babi Yar at the end of September 1941. It is estimated that these units, aided by local militia and in coordination with the army, slaughtered approximately 1.25 million Jews in all, as well as hundreds of thousands of other Soviet citizens. (*2)
As the Nazis advanced into the heart of the Soviet Union, their grip extended over numerous Jewish communities spanning a broad expanse from the Baltics through Belarus and Ukraine to the Black Sea. SHTTL serves as a poignant representation of one such village, functioning as a memorial that focuses on celebrating the vibrant lives of its inhabitants rather than dwelling solely on the tragic fate that ultimately befell them.
Remarkably, the movie is entirely filmed in the native languages of the villagers, predominantly Yiddish, interspersed with Ukrainian, Russian, and German, all accompanied by English subtitles.
Adding to its significance, SHTTL boasts a solid connection to Montreal. Notably, two of the producers are esteemed entertainment professionals from the city: Eric Gozlan, recognized for his work on films like Beautiful Boy, Stand Off, A Score to Settle, and Bandit (*2), and Joe Sisto, a well-known Montreal-based entertainment lawyer associated with projects such as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Upside Down, Brick Mansions, and Erased according to IMDB (*3).
Word has it that the producers plan to submit this film to the Oscars in the foreign film category. Filmed in Ukraine with a local crew, it’s a testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in creating this 21st-century masterpiece. Kudos to the entire team!
- “Shttl,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shttl
- Terezín Initiative Institute
- Eric Gozlan, IMDb, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2480811
- Joe Sisto, IMDB, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2339368