Agnieszka Holland’s Ironic Slant on the Unspeakable

Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks — Jul 12, 2019


It was four decades after the end of World War II that Salomon Perel, who had been born in Germany in 1925 to a Polish Jewish family, sat down to write the remarkable story of how he survived the war years by posing as pure Aryan, first as a translator for the Wehrmacht in Russia, then as a Hitler Youth at a military school in Berlin. Perel’s autobiography soon caught the attention of acclaimed Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, who saw it as an opportunity to make a very different kind of Holocaust film. In the above clip, taken from a supplement on our new edition of Holland’s Europa Europa, the director talks about adapting Perel’s singular story of survival and identity, and her determination to achieve a certain kind of ironic playfulness in its telling. This is clearly not a tone usually associated with tales of the Holocaust, but Holland explains here that, inspired by eighteenth-century authors like Voltaire and Denis Diderot, she hoped to use this style to portray the protagonist as “a toy in the hands of history,” as she says here.