Each year, the Milwaukee Film Festival (http://mkefilm.org) includes a Passport Program, which includes a selection of films from one particular country. The Opening Night film was German comedy, "Break Up Man" and so it follows that this year's Passport Program feature Germany. Wednesday, Oct. 2 was the final screening of German documentary "Oma & Bella". Alexa Karolinski's 76 minute film began at 4:45 p.m. at the Fox-Bay Cinema.
"Oma & Bella" follows the lives of Regina "Oma" Karolinski and Bella Katz, two Holocaust survivors who met soon after World War II and are still very close friends today, cooking and celebrating life. Alexa Karolinski uses the camera as a way of observing her grandmother, Oma, and her friendship with Bella as they cook, shop, eat, and reminisce.
The film begins with a very specific focus on cooking. From preparation to consumption, Karolinski uses extreme closeups to show the detail and care Oma and Bella use in preparing their many homemade dishes. Each of the women hand-pick each and every chicken, strawberry, etc. and are always prepared with a fully-stocked kitchen. Some vegetarians might not have the stomach for select cooking scenes as several involve detailed poultry or pork preparation. But for those meat-lovers or strong-stomached vegetarians, these scenes create a charming look at these two elderly ladies and their enthusiasm for the culinary arts.
When you are cooking you always see a piece of home. And that's something I never want to forget.
Oma and Bella's Jewish heritage and background in Germany gradually make their way into the film, as Alexa can be heard asking them specific questions about growing up during the war and working in concentration camps. She aptly makes this transition through interspersed cooking scenes and straight-on shots of the ladies in an interview-type setting, sharing anecdotes and songs. Even in their everyday activities, their past manages to hint at its presence. For Bella in particular, cooking becomes a matter of importance for both happiness and healthiness as the constant hand movements alleviate stiffness from working in the concentration camps.
If I didn't constantly move my hands I wouldn't have them anymore.
The viewer soon comes to realize that there is a struggle on Alexa's part to get detailed stories about concentration camps and surviving the Holocaust. Through a climactic moment of brave vulnerability, as well as several anecdotes throughout the film, Alexa and the audience come to realize how painful and horrific it is for Holocaust survivors to retell, and thus, relive their childhood memories. In this way, the documentary becomes much more than a story about a long-lasting friendship or the importance of cooking or even these two specific women. The audience gets unique insight into the lives of similar survivors and what it's like to have survived such unspeakable crimes and live in Germany today.
I'm the only one that survived. The only one and that is my life.
"Oma & Bella" is, in the bluntest description, a day in the life of Holocaust survivors. But it is so much more than that as Oma and Bella prove themselves to be incredibly strong, honest women with a charming sense of humor. With all that they have been through, Oma and Bella carry on and enjoy life in a way that even the most fortunate of us find challenging today.
....That's when I new there were good people too.