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Where the Women Are (At the 22nd Annual NY Jewish Film Festival)

Life? Or Theatre?

Dutch director – male – obsessed with tragic German artist – female. German auteur filmmaker – female – honing in on interplay of intellect and sexuality driving renowned German-American political theorist – also female. Polish filmmakers – male – documenting a Polish town’s response to death camp transports but failing to get the only known survivor dropped from a train, a woman, to talk.

What do this year’s NY Jewish Film Festival offerings say about the roles of Jewish women when women and men make film? From a wide-ranging two weeks of domestic and international films, here come snapshots of three Shoah-related films: one documentary, one feature, one documentary short.

Long-time Dutch filmmaker Frans Weisz is a man obsessed with artist Charlotte Salomon, the subject of his 1981 feature film “Charlotte” and his freewheeling documentary, 30 years later, “Life? Or Theatre?”

Poor Charlotte. The shy, almost invisible, middle-class German Jew. She had one passionate relationship in Nazi Berlin before fleeing to the relative safety of a wealthy American woman’s chateau in the south of France. As Hitler destroyed European Jewry, Charlotte worked out her own life story in Leben? oder Theater? Diving into this massive work was her response to learning of her family’s hidden history of suicide, including her own mother. (Now in Amsterdam’s Jewish Historical Museum, the nearly 800 gouaches are like the storyboard for a musical, a three-part life story with acts and scenes, with tracing-paper overlays of comments and musical notations. The artist pared them down from an outpouring of some 1,300 pieces.)