First Night: Hollywood's new reality helps healing process: 'Schindler's List', Leicester Square

David Lister@davidlister1
Thursday 24 September 2015 08:47

THE FLASHBULBS in Leicester Square, the Oscar predictions, the celebrity audience and all the paraphernalia of a film premiere seemed for once an uncomfortable intrusion as the audience emerged at 11pm last night, subdued, occasionally tearful and in some cases reliving appalling memories.

The European charity premiere of Schindler's List was attended by its director, Steven Spielberg, all the main cast members and several survivors of the Holocaust.

Spielberg's three-hour black-and-white epic version of Thomas Keneally's book about the Nazi black- marketeer who rescued 1,100 Jews was painfully moving, yet never descended to the soap-opera treatment of previous Hollywood forays into the Holocaust.

Aided by compelling performances from a largely British cast, headed by Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes, it has 12 Oscar - including Best Film and Best Director - and 13 Bafta nominations. Last night, though, the talk was not of Oscars but of bringing history's most scarring episode to a new generation.

Moshe Frei, 69, who was on Schindler's list, said: 'I was pleased I was there to see it, because I know of a million people who will never be able to. As I watched the film, I saw them all again.'

One of the film's producers, Branko Lustig, who spent more than two years in Auschwitz concentration camp, said: 'Through this film Steven gave us a tapestry of the whole Holocaust. This is a movie not only about 1,200 Jews but about 6 million other Jews, and not only the Jews but all the other victims of the Holocaust.'

Keneally, who attended the premiere, said: 'When people go to the cinema, including the Schindler survivors, they are looking for an accurate feel of what happened, not to see every literal detail. But in fact this film was amazingly true to the original documents.'

Ralph Fiennes, who plays Amon Goeth, the sadistic commandant of Plaszow labour camp, said he had to look for the human being inside his character. 'Anyone who took part in that obscene behaviour was of human flesh and blood. They came out of their mother's womb, they wore nappies, they ate digestive biscuits,' he said.

Ben Kingsley speculated afterwards that the film could serve an emotional need far beyond the role of cinema hitherto. 'Europe doesn't even have one day in the calendar when the traffic stops and there is a two-minute silence for the 11 million dead, Jews and non-Jews. If we don't grieve, the healing process doesn't take place. This is a tremendously healing film. One of Steven's great gifts is to say, 'look at this, look at your humanity'.'

At the end of the film the audience, which included many representatives of Jewish charities, gave Spielberg a standing ovation. Earlier, he had urged the audience 'not to mill around afterwards but to go home and be alone with your thoughts'.

Leading article, page 17

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