Director: Barry Levinson

Starring: Ben Foster, Vicky Krieps, Saro Emirze, Billy Magnussen

Year: 2021

Watching The Survivor was very difficult and emotional for me, a true moving experience that goes beyond acting and directing and screenplays and cinematography to a place that’s much deeper and closer to the core of what makes us human, what makes us feel empathy.  It’s a film not to enter into lightly, because you won’t leave the same person, after hearing this story and facing the most evil that mankind can muster.

This is the true tale of Hertzko ‘Harry’ Haft, the Polish boxer known as the Survivor of Auschwitz.  Haft survived the camps by fighting in boxing matches for the entertainment of SS officers, with the loser losing his life and the winner treated like a pet dog.  Years later in America, Haft fights for recognition so that a lost love might read his name in the papers and come find him in his loneliness, where he battles the demons of his past with the ferocity of a man who has seen terrible things but won’t ever give up.

Although the film has a Hollywood gimmick feel, with a lot of accents and makeup and black&white, and although it is a drama, not a biography, the true heart of the story never falters, and it still has the power to stun you with it’s tale of humanity, cruelty, and courage.  Ben Foster does a tremendous job with Harry, a character who is far from perfect, a man who made terrible choices to survive, and has nightmares about every single one.  This film is almost devastating in its depictions of the concentration camps and life after for the survivors, a life that’s haunted by all those who didn’t make it out.  History, sport, romance, hope; Survivor has it all, layering a complicated narrative and doing the best it can to tell us something that’s almost unspeakable.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆