Treasure (2024)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Director
Julia von Heinz
Run Time
1 hour and 52 minutes
Rating
R

VP Content Ratings

Violence
0/10
Language
2/10
Sex & Nudity
2/10
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.

Proverbs 10:2
 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21
Holocaust father Edek accompanies daughter Ruth on a visit to Poland. (c) Bleecker Street Media

Director Julia von Heinz provides an intriguing funny post-Holocaust drama involving a Jewish Holocaust survivor in 1991 tagging along with his daughter to discover where the family once lived and was imprisoned. A road movie, ti has been adapted from the autobiographical novel Too Many Men by Lily Brett. The novelist is an Australian, the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

Ruth Rothwax (Dunham), a lifelong New York 36-year-old journalist, has never been to her father’s homeland. The Iron Curtain has at last been raised, so she decides to join the many Jews who make up what comes to be called “Holocaust tourism.” Her late mother and her living Edek (Stephen Fry)  had seldom spoken about their life under the Nazis due to the trauma of the event. Thus she wants to connect with her family history. At the last-minute Edek decides to join her out of a desire to protect her from what he knew could be Polish hostility.

When they arrive at Warsaw’s air terminal Edek rejects Ruth’s plan to travel by train. She is upset, not understanding how differently train travel might mean to a Holocaust survivor. He quickly befriends outside the terminal taxi driver Stefan (Zbigniew Zamachowski), standing by his Mercedes. The Pole is congenial and English-speaking, so the two become pals, with Stefan apparently freeing up his schedule so that he can chauffeur the pair around the country.

Ruth is damaged goods, feeling badly about a failed marriage and her weight. For the latter she has brought along in plastic containers a supply of nuts and stems that she consumes in her room. She also has packed with her clothes a small library of books about the Nazis and the Holocaust that she dips into after hours. She is not on the best of terms with her dad, especially when he is attracted to a pair of older female tourists who pop up at the hotels they lodge in. And, like too many American tourists, she expects everyone to be able to understand her.

After seeing some sites in Warsaw, they travel to Lods where Edek had lived, discovering the now rundown factory and apartment buildings he had owned until the family had been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Suspicious workers shoo them away at the factory, and at the apartment they stand gazing up at the windows of his former home. At Ruth’s insistence they walk up and knock on his former door. A man answers and when they explain themselves, he reluctantly allows them in. A young woman carrying a baby, sensing who they are, pleads that they not take their home. The man assures them that in 1940 when they took possession of the apartment it was empty, but Edek recognizes their old couch. The man and his wife offer tea, and Edek also recognizes a silver bowl, the teapot and cups and saucers as their own. Later, Ruth, now aware of the man’s lies, will return to bargain with him, discovering that he even has the whole set of china, plus a luxurious winter coat with inititials that had belonged to Edek’s father. Edek is content to let these things go, but not Ruth.

This episode and its aftermath is very unsettling to watch because it reveals how deep antisemitism is embedded in the Polish people. When the Nazis carried off Jewish Poles, neighbors such as the family in this film, eagerly took possession of their homes and furnishing. And even a brief Googling search of Jews returning to post WW 2 Poland will turn up articles on the dangers of Holocaust survivors attempting to return to their homes. (A brief scene from Schindler’s List­—will stay with me always—the trucks carrying Jews from the ghetto, after which an angelic-looking little girl runs, sneering as she shouts, “Goodbye Jews! Goodbye Jews!”)

Edek, for obvious reasons, does not intend to accompany Ruth to visit, but changes his mind. The camera ranges over the camp, revealing its vastness. A great many of the dormitories are extant, whereas others only the platform and chimneys remain standing. A tall barbed wire fence encloses the grounds, with guard towers at intervals. Ruth, upset upon learning that there is  a refreshment stand, protests this commercialization, “It’s not a museum.” It’s a death camp!”

Their female guide, driving them in a golf cart, informs them that most tourists must walk, that only survivors are privileged to ride the huge grounds. Edek drolly replies, “That’s something at least.” When their guide points to the wrong place where the trains loaded with victims had supposedly pulled in, Edek takes over as guide, getting out of the cart and walking over to weedy area where he exposes the rusted iron rails where the death trains had disgorged their cargo. Here where his family had been murdered Edek’s nonchalance is overcome by the trauma he had log been suppressing. He later takes Ruth back to the family factory they had visited briefly, this time king a pick and a shovel to dig up what becomes the “treasure” of the film’s title. It is this which opens up his heart and memory as he examines it with his daughter, the pair connecting with each other at last. Indeed, it is a treasure which they will be able to transport back to America far more easily than the bulky set of china.

Although many critics have belittled this comedy drama, I found it deeply moving, a welcome divergence from the usual Holocaust film. The two lead actors make us care for them and their fraught relationship, as well as for the father’s trauma which he has kept at bay for fifty years. Jesse Eisenberg’s similar-themed A Real Pain does not open in Cincinnati until mid July, so I will look forward to seeing why these critics consider it a far superior take on the same subject.

This review will be in the July issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

 

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