PG-13 for images from the Holocaust. I don't think that there is much else that could be considered offensive in the movie in terms of language, sexuality, or anything else. It just is a brutal idea that you are watching footage from the Holocaust as people discuss what is necessary to be a survivor. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sam Hobkinson
See, now I don't know what to think. The only reason that I sat down with my wife to watch this documentary was that the trailer seemed riveting. There were twists in the trailer itself and it said that it saved the biggest twist for last. My big spoiler? While the final reveal is a twist, it's not that big of a twist. My imagination did too much heavy lifting with this one and my twist was way more intense than what actually happened. That's fine, I suppose. I don't want to rewrite history (which is appropriate for talking about Misha and the Wolves). But did it make for the most fascinating documentary ever? Meh.
I have to admit that I am spoiled. There have been some real doozies. Heck, even during the end credits for Misha and the Wolves, there was a trailer from the guys who brought us the series Don't F*ck with Cats. That was something that was mind-boggling. In some ways, Misha is just a depressing story. While the featured characters in the movie don't have anything to do with a secret murder or anything, the movie does focus on the aftermath of the Holocaust. What ends up being the focus of the movie is the nature of truth and lies. If Misha and the Wolves is watched as a psychological study, there really is something there that is worth watching. It's just that the movie's trailer is going through this competition with the other stuff that Netflix releases, aiming for the shock. Instead, the movie addresses some really important questions, like wondering who could manipulate the Holocaust for fame and fortune.
And this is where the movie gets really smart. The final interview of the movie is with a representative from the Holocaust Memorial Center, who gives the entire film clarity. While we, as audience members probably experiencing Misha's story for the first time, have to wonder the culpability of the individuals involved, this representative lays it out quickly. Misha, while coming across as sympathetic, is actually a horrible human being. While she hides behind the concept of "her reality", nothing in her story is even remotely true. There is no confusion on her part or mental illness. Misha, without question, drew attention to herself as a victim to step out of the crowd and ultimately profit from the experiences with other people. Yes, she was thrust into a situation where her father was considered a pariah. But when Misha started telling her story of searching for her parents while befriending wolves, she had already the benefit of the Tabula Rasa. No one in America had known about her father's confession to the Nazis. She was left with a clean slate and she chose to adopt this persona of the Jewish girl survivor. Throughout the film, you question whether or not Misha has a moral leg to stand on and the final interview doesn't really leave you with a sense of ambiguity: she does not.
But it does kind of feel icky all the way around. Jane Daniels, Misha's publisher, kind of feels like the victim in the story because of this outrageous 22.5 million dollar damage that was inflicted on her, despite the fact that she had collected none of this money. But that sympathy really quickly disappears over the course of the film because you just get this vibe that she's making herself look like the victim and embracing that title. It had to be hard to be in her position. From her perspective, she heard Misha's story and realized that they could both benefit from Misha telling it to the world. Despite the warning from the Holocaust Survivors' Society, Jane goes ahead with the book thinking that she's both making money and providing the world a much needed story. Part of me wants to demonize Jane as the world demonizes Jane. But to do that, I'm kind of just saying that all book publishers are locusts and I don't really get that vibe. There's that weird thing about the account in Turks and Caicos, but that seems to have answer that I don't understand.
Instead, I get mad at Jane in the same way that Jane gets mad at Jane. I want her to uncover the truth. After all, I had watched the trailer too and I wanted her to blow the lid off of Misha's story. But that brings up the real meat of the movie: Do we fight for the truth when the truth would be grosser than reality? Jane has a really good point. If she tries to expose Misha and she really is a Holocaust survivor, doesn't that make her a monster? There are things that we really can't talk about. Now, I don't know if Sam Hutchinson, director of the movie, is part of the "question everything" camp. But there is a little bit of icky morality being thrown around. After all, Jane kind of becomes the conspiracy theorist who was actually right. Sure, Jane has a lot to lose not-investigating Misha's story. Mainly, she loses 22.5 million and the respect of her community who thinks that she tried stealing money from a Holocaust survivor. But while they were digging up information about Misha, I kept thinking that none of these moments were these bombshells. When they got the school records for Misha, I knew that it was the truth, but it wasn't the smoking gun that I really had thought closed all doors.
The odds that Misha wasn't telling the truth were clear. It just was never really that overwhelming. Combined with her aunt's testimony, which straight up spits fire while she's telling it, that's when I got on board. The fact that there was a story of her father being captured and the fact that he was labeled a traitor. It's really the father that I'm the most sympathetic for. He's this guy who could have just left Belgium. He could have simply been occupied. Okay. But he joins the Belgian resistance, which is cool as heck. He just stunk at it. It even said that he was so proud of what he did, the he showed his family. I would show my family! 100% I would tell my wife and show off how I'm a great little resistance fighter. But when he's captured, he has a real choice that would be impossible for anyone. He wanted to save his wife and see his kid. To do this, he had to betray the other members of the resistance. That's tough. Yeah, we all know that the right answer is to protect the resistance. It's just that his entire legacy is mud after that point. There was a list of resistance fighters etched into a monument and they had to scratch his off. There were so few people who tried standing up to the Nazis that they could make a small monument to them and he still screwed up.
The most bananas choice of the movie, though, is the mislead of casting someone to play older Misha. I was thinking about the timeline and how someone Misha's age would look like. All I could think was that she looked really good for someone her age. It wasn't too shocking when I found out that she wasn't real. But I did question my wife, "Why would either Jane or Misha contribute to this documentary?" because we know that one of them is going to look inhuman after the reveal happens. But then the reveal happens and I have to applaud it. It feels very F for Fake, which I really have to rewatch. It's such a perfect thematic add to the movie that makes us question everything we see. (Also, we should listen to doctors and not question them. But that's a different story.) It's this nice element where fiction and reality play off of each other. I also adore that the movie doesn't sledgehammer you with the reveal. Instead, we discover that Misha's house is just a set and that she's wearing a wig. That's it. It actually took me a minute to realize what the movie was trying to communicate and I dug it.
It's just that the movie didn't shock me as much as I thought it would. The Catch-22 of it all is the knowledge that I wouldn't have watched the documentary if I hadn't seen this trailer that promised me an insane ending. But then I wouldn't have been disappointed by that ending if I hadn't watched the trailer. At the end of the day, I'm glad I watched it, but it simply is a well-made documentary and that's about it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.