By Daniele Foti-Cuzzola
Although more than 70 years have passed since the end of the Holocaust, directors Alon and Shaul Schwarz explore how its repercussions and ramifications continue to affect Jewish families through their documentary Aida’s Secrets.
In Aida’s Secrets, the directors, who are also brothers, explore the remarkable true story of their adopted uncle Izak, who was born in the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp after World War Two. Decades later, Izak embarks on a mission to reunite with the biological brother he never knew he had.
Together, Izak, who grew up in Israel, and his brother Shep, who grew up in Canada, set out to uncover the secrets behind their separation. With their biological father gone, the only way to learn the truth is through their elderly mother Aida.
The two brothers travel to Quebec to meet their mother, despite her reluctance to give them the answers they are searching for.
Aida’s Secrets is a poignant documentary and a painful reminder of the horrors inflicted on the Jewish people during the Second World War. While at first it seems Aida is hiding the truth from her children, it becomes apparent that perhaps the memories of her past are too painful to revisit.
The Schwarz brothers keep the production elements to a minimum, avoiding the use of stylistic camera angles and melodramatic music to evoke emotion. Instead, they create a voyeuristic aesthetic in which viewers hear every whimper and every sigh, allowing them to feel as though they are watching the action take place as it did in real life. This is most effective in the reunion scenes where there are no musical cues and viewers watch the raw footage of the brothers reuniting, and then again coming together with their mother.
However, not all of the documentary is distressing. Considering the directors are related to their subjects, they are able to push the boundaries with the cast, which makes for compelling viewing. It is beautiful and uplifting to watch the two elderly brothers, who did not know the other existed, connect and bond while making up for lost time. The directors use these heart-warming scenes to even out the dramatic moments and establish the brother’s different personalities and perspectives.
Aida’s Secrets is not for light viewing. The documentary is intense and contains multiple twists and turns, right until the closing credits; it is difficult to fathom that these are real people in real circumstances. While the directors spare viewers with the gory details of the war, the documentary has a heavy emotional punch that will leave viewers misty-eyed long after the credits roll.
Aida’s Secrets is a beautifully crafted documentary that reminds viewers of the lingering effects of the one of the darkest chapters in European history. It is currently screening in Perth as part of the Jewish International Film Festival.
The Jewish International Film Festival Is screening in Perth from October 26 – November 6.
For more information visit: www.jiff.com.au