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Inspired by a true story, the new film “Treasure”, directed by Julia von Heinz, is set in drab and gloomy 1991 Poland. The Polish Jewish concentration camp survivor Edek, played by the British actor Stephen Fry, and his 36-year-old journalist daughter Ruth, played by Lena Dunham, take a father-daughter trip to Poland that – predictably – at the end brings them closer together.

During a few days journey by car (the father would not travel by train, for reasons his daughter does not understand at first) they visit Łódź, which is the father’s birthplace, Kraków and the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. The trip is the daughter’s idea, who wants to learn more about her roots, while the father, who never discusses his traumatic past, comes along.

This is a rather “small” film, as far as production values go (not many images of Warsaw or Kraków, where they stay on the way to Auschwitz-Birkenau, very little of Łódź, for example), but it is effective in showing once again the depth and range of the Jewish Holocaust, the effects of trauma which never go away, and hints at the mechanisms of coping with unimaginable pain and loss.    

The daughter learns a bit about her family’s history while the father is reluctantly forced by circumstances to break his silence. The pair of New Yorkers also encounters Poles who are mostly helpful, warm and welcoming, while a few, as in real life, are opportunistic, greedy and desperate.

The story moves along well, with the trauma and pain of the Jewish Holocaust obvious, but due to the cheerful disposition of the survivor Edek, and his zest for life, as well as the focus of the film being the father-daughter relationship, they do not dominate the film.

Stephen Fry’s character and his Polish are believable and charming, while Lena Dunham, known to American audiences from the HBO series “Girls” is very convincing as the child of survivors, cut off from her parents’ past, but hugely affected by it and dealing with her own problems, which are perhaps also rooted in her parents’ trauma.

Whatever we see of Poland – at this point it is post-communist Poland only two years into the political and economic transformation – is even more gray and depressing due to the winter setting, with images of destitution and dilapidated buildings.

This is not today’s colorful, prosperous Poland with freeways, modern airports and hotels; in a way the film offers an opportunity to reflect on how amazingly the country has changed during the past 33 years.

On occasion, for someone who grew up in Poland, this “1991 Poland” hardly even feels like Poland, possibly since many scenes in the movie were shot in Germany. In addition, in one of the scenes, a hotel singer beautifully performs an old Polish classic, but with a slight foreign accent.

The film very carefully treats the sensitive and unavoidable topic of Jewish property in Poland.  And at the end it is left to the viewer’s imagination what will happen to the titular “treasure”- physical and symbolic – discovered during the trip.

“Treasure”, labeled as a “tragicomedy”, might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is certainly worth your while, especially, if you are interested in recent Polish history.

Playing now in the theaters. A few well-known Polish actors such as Zbigniew Zamachowski and Iwona Bielska also play in the film.   

One Comment

  • Rudolf Schroeder says:

    Also, there were a few logical inconsistancies in this movie. Initially, Ruth is extremely concerned about her budgeting for this trip, but later, without any hesitancy, shells out $550 in cash for a set of china. In addition, it is hard to believe that the documents that were discovered could have survived so long undamaged under the conditions in which they were kept. Otherwise, agree with the reviewer that this movie is worthwhile for those interested in recent Polish history (and fans of Stephen Fry).

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