Misha and the Wolves

 

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The astonishing true story of how a seven-year-old girl may have survived the Holocaust.

 
Misha and the Wolves

 

In 1997 a book was published under the title Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years. Written by a Belgian woman born in 1937, this tale of her childhood became such a bestseller that it was made the basis of a dramatised film version by the French writer/director Véra Belmont. Watching the opening scenes of Misha and the Wolves you might suppose that this new film from Sam Hobkinson was simply another retelling of that same story. These scenes detail how the child, whose parents had been deported, went in search of them and astonishingly in the course of her journey from Belgium to Germany found herself accepted as a companion by a pack of wolves.

 

Given such a remarkable story, it would not be odd for it to be filmed both as a documentary and as a work with actors, albeit that in such cases it is more usual for a documentary treatment to appear first thus alerting somebody to the potential of it being reworked as a drama for a wider audience. But the key fact about Misha and the Wolves is that its prime focus is not on the wartime events but on what happened to the adult Misha when she was living in Boston, Massachusetts and then became famous as a result of her successful memoir.

 

Some audiences will approach Misha and the Wolves aware of the bizarre developments that would engulf both Misha Defonseca and her publisher Jane Daniel, while others will be taken by surprise as the narrative proceeds. Yet others will have advance knowledge of some of the facts but not all of them (for example what is eventually revealed about Misha’s father late on in the film may well be part of what they don’t know). Undoubtedly the story told in this film is one of those which justifies the description of being so surprising that if it were fiction one would not believe it and, however much you know or don’t know when watching the film, the narrative is a compelling one.

 

Sam Hobkinson’s film is not the first documentary to tell a story so full of twists and turns that the audience is thoroughly intrigued. The most obvious precursor is Tim Wardle’s brilliant Three Identical Strangers (2018). The construction of Misha and the Wolves falls short of that piece in that it is too inclined to indulge dramatised scenes (a child stands in for the young Misha in scenes illustrating her story and there is one extreme example of dramatisation which seems a bit of a cheat). Nevertheless, there are plenty of telling interviews here, the story that unfolds is a fascinating one and ultimately there’s a well-balanced summing up by Evelyne Haendel, a Holocaust survivor living in Brussels who died shortly after making her valuable contribution to this piece. This is a film which could have been more restrained at times, but it will unquestionably hold viewers fascinated and wisely it ultimately leaves it up to them to decide whether or not they share the opinion expressed by Evelyne Haendel.

 

Original title: Kurtlaria Yaşam.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Laura Liberatore, Evelyne Haendel, Jane Daniel, Joni Soffron, Marie-Claire Mommer, Ramona Hamblin, Marc Metdepenningen, Sharon Sergeant, Karen Schulman, Jean-Philippe Tondeur, Debórah Dwork.

 

Dir Sam Hobkinson, Pro Poppy Dixon, Al Morrow, Matt Wells, Jurgen Buedts and Gregory Zalcman, Ex Pro Stewart le Maréchal, Thomas Høeghm, Vesna Cudic, Jonny Persey, Adrian Sibley, Mandy Chang, Hayley Reynolds, Martin Pieper and Barbara Truyen, Field Pro Melissa Martin Pollard, Screenplay Sam Hobkinson, Ph Will Pugh, Ed Peter Norrey, Music Nick Foster.

 

Bright Yellow Films/Las Belgas/Met Film Production/Take Five/Arts Alliance Productions/Apt Films/BBC Storyville/ZDF/Arte VPRO-Republic Film Distribution.
90 mins. Belgium/UK. 2021. Rel: 3 September 2021. Cert. 12A.