Last Days, The (1998)

Any film about the Holocaust is always essential viewing—this Oscar-winning documentary details the testimonies of five Hungarian Jews who survived the concentration camps during the time when the Nazis brutally intensified their extermination plan despite knowing they were losing the war.  

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,314

Dir. James Moll
1998 | USA | Documentary/War | 87 mins | 1.85:1 | English, German & Hungarian
PG (passed clean) for graphic images and descriptions of Holocaust atrocities

Cast:
Plot: Five Jewish Hungarians, now U.S. citizens, tell their stories: before March, 1944, when Nazis began to exterminate Hungarian Jews, months in concentration camps, and visiting childhood homes more than 50 years later.
Awards: Won Best Documentary (Oscar)
Source: NBC Universal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Educational – Holocaust
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No


Winning the Best Documentary Oscar in the same year that Life Is Beautiful nabbed three, including for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Leading Actor, The Last Days was executive produced by Steven Spielberg as a follow-up to his Holocaust drama, Schindler’s List (1993), which brought the horrors of the time to mainstream attention. 

Directed by James Moll without any necessary fanfare or histrionics, The Last Day is an earnest, highly-emotional work about memory and trauma. 

Any film about the Holocaust is always essential viewing, and here Moll focuses on the testimonies of five Hungarian Jewish survivors of the concentration camps. 

They tell us of a time when the Nazis were losing the war in late 1944, yet despite not channelling their resources to mount more offensives that might starve off defeat, they decided to brutally intensify their extermination plan of the Jews. 

“The Holocaust perhaps is the culmination of the kind of horror that can occur when Man loses his integrity, his belief in the sanctity of human life.”

This is the context of Moll’s work, and through the harrowing accounts, we can only begin to understand a little more about these “last days”. 

Operating at a leisurely pace that gives viewers time to contemplate as these survivors revisit the sites of their trauma and their childhood homes, we also become heartened by their recollections of humanity and camaraderie even during the darkest of hours. 

Without Schindler’s List, I would have probably taken a far longer time to start reading and watching more about the Holocaust. 

Like Resnais’ Night and Fog (1956) and Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985) before it, seeing The Last Days is my continuing attempt to educate myself and never to forget Man’s inhumanity towards himself. 

Grade: A-


Trailer:

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