(director/writer: Gillo Pontecorvo; screenwriter: Franco Solinas; cinematographers: Aleksandar Sekulovic/Goffredo Bellisario; editors: Roberto Cinquini/Anhela Michelli; music: Carlo Rustichelli; cast: Susan Strasberg (Edith), Laurent Terzieff (Sascha), Emmanuelle Riva (Terese), Didi Perego (Sofia), Gianni Garko (Karl, German Soldier); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Franco Cristaldi/Moris Ergas; Criterion; 1960-France/Italy/Yugoslavia-dubbed in English, when necessary English subtitles; )

“Curious Holocaust film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Half-Jewish Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo(“The Battle of Algiers”/”The Wide Blue Road”/”Burn!”), in his directing debut, focuses his drab tragedy on life inside a concentration camp, but unfortunately turns a tragic situation into exploitative melodrama with an unrealistic concentration love story. Pontecorvo co-writes this curious Holocaust film with Franco Solinas, a film that never becomes as powerful as it should have even as it starkly depicts the Nazi camp horrors.

The Parisian Edith (Susan Strasberg) is a 14-year-old girl living with her family under the Nazi occupation, who are removed to a concentration camp. Fortunately a sympathetic inmate (Didi Perego) in the infirmary ID’s Edith as the dead Nicole, a non-Jewish thief, and she assumes that girl’s identity by donning her black triangle uniform. Further tragedy arises when Edith witnesses her entire family taken to the gas chambers for extermination. Determined to be a survivor, no matter what she had to do, Edith gets transferred to a Polish labor camp and betters her conditions by becoming a prostitute to the guards. In due time she rises to be a kapo (the name given a prisoner who works for the Nazis in keeping the others in line). She only softens her hardened stance when a Russian POW, Sascha (Laurent Terzieff), arrives at the camp. They fall in love with each other, and Edith collaborates with others on Sascha’s risky escape plan and puts her own life on the line in a heroic gesture of self-sacrifice.

Emmanuelle Riva, playing an older, stronger French woman, Edith’s maternal friend, gives a strong performance as an inmate who electrocutes herself while running into an electric fence.

REVIEWED ON 10/18/2014 GRADE: B-