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  •  REVIEW: BLESSED IS THE MATCH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF HANNAH SENESH

    Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh

    'Match girl

    Narrated by Joan Allen, "Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh" looks back on the life of a uniquely talented and complex young woman.

    By ELIZABETH BACHNER
    Offoffoff.com

    There are times in history when it seems that everyone is faced with choiceless choices and radically impossible situations, and then there are people in history who prove that choicelessness is always an illusion. Hannah Senesh (1921-1944), a young, female Hungarian poet who became a Zionist, a paratrooper, and a martyr, was one of those people.

      
    BLESSED IS THE MATCH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF HANNAH SENESH
    Directed by: Roberta Grossman.
    Produced by: Marta Kauffman, Lisa Thomas.
    Written by: Sophie Sartain.
    Cast: Meri Roth, Marcela Nohynkova, Zdenek Kozakovic, Zdenek Astr, Jindrich Hinke, Monika Malacova, Andrej Polak, Akiva Zasman.
    Narrated by: Joan Allen.
    Cinematography: Dyanna Taylor.
    Edited by: Blake West.
    Music by: Todd Boekelheide.
    Production design by: Frank Gampel.
    Costumes by: Rona Doron, Lenka Urbanova.

    Related links: Official site

    "Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh" tells Hannah's story in a simple, clear way that makes it accessible to viewers of all ages. The situation in Budapest, in Europe, in the world during Hannah's lifetime was anything but simple.

    The dark fact is that even when this girl and her upper-middle-class family were living a highly cultured, relatively safe life in an elegant city, anti-Semitism was rampant. Hannah had to pay much more in school tuition than her gentile friends. When she was elected to head up the school literary magazine, the election was reversed because she was a Jew. In her childhood journals, before her life truly began, she described herself as a "born philosopher," someone who always had deeper meanings, with life, death, and nature heavy in her mind. She found Zionism early, and had the luck to get out of Hungary before the worst of the horror started, and the sadness and guilt of leaving her mother there.

    Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh  

    "Blessed'" uses historical reenactment, interview footage, Hannah's mother's writings, a wide range of photographs, and Hannah's own work to tell her story. It's rare to have such extensive and varied documentation of a life, and filmmakers Roberta Grossman (director) and Sophie Sartain (screenwriter) take full advantage of it. Most interesting are the interviews with still-living survivors who Hannah knew, such as her fellow paratrooper, to whom she handed a poem before she crossed the Hungarian border to get tortured, arrested, and, eventually, executed. He admired her very much, this tough, strident "Joan of Arc" barely out of her teens, but he didn't much like her.

      
      It's rare to have such extensive and varied documentation of a life, and the filmmakers take full advantage of it.
      

    The poem was "Blessed is the Match," proof that her sacrifice was conscious. "Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame/ Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart./ Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor's sake./ Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame." Actually, in this movie Hannah comes off less as a Joan of Arc than a very robust Simone Weil.


      
    "Blessed'" tells Hannah's story in a simple, clear way that makes it accessible to viewers of all ages.  

      

    In stories about the Holocaust, whether true or fictionalized, the tendency is for authors or filmmakers to focus on heroes and villains, saints and martyrs, the spectacularly courageous or the truly malicious, perhaps because looking at the truth of the banality of evil (or, to use Arendt's term, "...at the ordinary people who sit in offices while asylum-seekers are detained and tortured without trial, at the Fascist Arrowcross members in thirties Hungary who readily turned against their own neighbors...") is a much more terrible and true indictment of humanity at large, of our own moral frailty, than inspiring and transcendent stories. There is always the risk of any Holocaust story being more reminiscent of Spielberg than of Primo Levi. "Blessed is the Match" does a credible job of staying conscious of that fine line between a true story and a hokey ballad that (wrongly) implies that the filth and horror are over, or that the good guys won.

    MAY 5, 2009
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



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