A film of two halves, Tacheles – The Heart of the Matter takes a little while to get going, but when it does, it becomes a strong documentary that asks how the Holocaust affects young people today and how should they let it affect them.
Yaar is a young Jewish Berliner who dreams of becoming a game designer. He associates Judaism with nothing but victims who allowed themselves to be led to the slaughter. He accuses his father of suffering from the Holocaust, although he never even experienced it first-hand. Yaar rebels by developing a computer game: “Shoah. While God was asleep”. He created a 1940s Germany where Jews could defend themselves and Nazis could act humanely. His father is shocked. Thus begins a painful confrontation with their history, which will also change the relationship between Yaar and his father.
Asking how we should talk about something integral to our personal history is always a touch subject to broach upon. Even if we think about discussing it, how do we? What is the best method? For Yaar, it is to create a game that opens up the possibilities of what Jewish and Nazis could do. As if thinking that if Jewish people had control of their narrative, what would the result have been in WWII? It is a difficult discussion to have. To throw in your own questions of possible narratives leads to an intriguing result, not only for those of this generation but also for those born more closely or during that time.
We first meet our main subject Yaar in Tacheles with him having a good old time in a shower. He promptly becomes a person that we feel little towards due to his apathy towards his Jewish heritage. He comes across as a young man who has had his head in the sand and is not alone, as his co-game designer friend Marcel is equally apathetic to their past. Their apathy almost halts the entire film in its tracks. However, thanks to an emotional scene halfway into the film, we can feel something for Yaar.
His conversations with his father and grandmother are quite enlightening when Tacheles is at its strongest. While we need to build him a little, it is also important to see the varying types of trauma that his family have gone through. For too long, we are pushed at a distance from our subjects, and there is a struggle to connect as well as we need to, and when we are brought more into their world, it is almost too close and personal. As if there is a confusion on the intent of it all.
There is a moment where things seem to click for Yaar about the gravity of what happened, and it is when he and his co-game designers try on some Nazi uniforms in the empty Polish mansion. At first, there is a pleasant feeling about proceedings, but when Marcel puts on the uniform and “confronts” Yaar, asking for papers, Yaar can’t help but look towards that hanging uniform and look down at the boots. It is quite telling how his demeanour changes from that moment on. Yet it is something that has been growing within him the longer the game was being designed as if realisation was hitting him all at once.
This is where Tacheles finally feels like it wakes itself up and becomes the film it needs to be. This feels like a film that wants to alert younger audiences to what happened in the Holocaust and how even people not born during those horrid times can be affected by it. When Yaar’s father has his emotional breakdown in Kraków, it allows the film to release itself of the pent-up frustrations residing within it. Instead, he devastates his son and the audience as he wails about the trauma he has been through due to his mother having survivor’s guilt. Unable to enjoy his childhood, he has been trapped mentally and emotionally and needs this moment to begin a form of recovery.
When the film begins to pose those questions of how the Holocaust affects today’s generation, we become more involved with the piece. Seeing how his father’s breakdown affects him, it is easy to forget that WWII was only two generations ago; there is still healing to be done. It wasn’t just a mild inconvenience that Yaar thinks it is at the beginning of the Tacheles. The documentary becomes an intentionally difficult watch by showing us that there are so many different types of trauma and ways of trying to deal with it.
Tacheles – The Heart of the Matter will be playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and is available to stream across the UK and Ireland between 17-25 March via https://ff.hrw.org/london
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