Review: Treasure — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

This poignant road movie tells the story of a young New York woman who accompanies her father to Poland to visit his childhood home and the concentration camp at Auschwitz, which he miraculously survived.

Treasure (Bleecker Street and FilmNation)

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⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Rating: R

Run Time: 1 hour 51 minutes

Stars: Lena Dunham, Stephen Fry

Writers: Julia von Heinz, John Quester, Lily Brett (based on her memoir)

Director: Julia von Heinz


It is a somber concession to the passage of time that we have come to the point where films about survivors of the Nazi Holocaust must, of necessity, be set in the past.

I find this particularly sad because the prime mission of those now nearly-gone survivors, from 1945 on, has been to remind the world that the death camps really did exist, and that otherwise civilized people are, under the right circumstances, entirely capable of complicity in mass murder and even genocide.

This seems to be the concern of German director Julia von Heinz, who co-wrote and directed this poignant road movie. It’s the story of Ruth, (Lena Dunham), a young New York woman who, shortly after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, accompanies her father Edek (Stephen Fry) to Poland for a tour of his childhood home, the remnants of the family’s business, and the concentration camp at Auschwitz, which he miraculously survived while the rest of his large Jewish family perished.

Edek remembers those harrowing years all too well, but he has chosen, throughout his life, to avoid discussing them. The past, he says, is past, and there is nothing he can do to change it.

But Ruth isn’t buying it. Scraping together her meager savings as a Manhattan journalist, she arranges flights, train passages, and hotels for her and Edek — who, to her surprise, has insisted on accompanying her.

He’s an alternately encouraging and frustrating travel companion. Reluctantly revisiting the milestones of his early life, Edek seems always to be trying to talk Ruth into skipping stops on her itinerary. When she stubbornly announces she’ll go on without him, though, he drops his head and tags along.

It’s a sobering journey. In his old home town, he points out the window beneath which he wooed Ruth’s mother — an apartment she would soon have to surrender as the Nazis moved the Jews to a ghetto. The pair locate the factory Edek’s family owned until it was confiscated by the government — and are chased away by the people to whom it was given.

Most heartbreaking is the pair’s impromptu visit to Edek’s childhood home. He is content to stand outside for a minute or two, but the investigative reporter in Ruth can’t resist storming up the stairs and knocking on the door. Following her like a lost puppy, Edek wanders through his old front door after the current resident reluctantly invites them in.

We have no idea who lived here before us, the man of the house insists. It was empty when we got here in 1940, his wife adds. But as Edek’s eyes wander along the walls, he spots, even 50 years later, fragments of his childhood: His mother’s china. A silver bowl.

Finally, he cannot contain himself. That’s my mother’s teapot, he says. It’s her bowl.

When the owner offers to sell the china and bowl to Ruth, we (and she) ought to be outraged. But writer/director von Heinz isn’t content with superficial reactions. This family, she reminds us, has just endured 50 years of Soviet repression. They sit on the same furniture Edek’s parents bought not because they like it, but because their life has, for a half-century, been its own kind of deprived hell. Their very survival has depended on denial—much like Edek’s.

With his bushy beard, twinkling eyes, and booming Eastern European accent, Fry could be Tevye the milkman returned to the scene of the pogroms — philosophical, witty, and undeniably haunted. When Ruth casually announces they must board the train she’s booked at the Warsaw station, Edek’s eyes go blank as he is transported to the last time he ever set foot on a railroad car, bound for almost certain extermination. It’s a mesmerizing, wordless moment of hesitation that encompasses both a long-ago season of horror and an ensuing lifetime of incomprehensible sorrow. One of England’s most versatile actors, Fry — hilariously anarchic in his BBC comedy days, devastatingly complex as the conflicted author in 1997’s Wilde — brings his whole artist’s palette to the role of Edek. Funny and thoughtful, outspoken yet repressed, his Edek welcomes us with outstretched arms and an infectious smile while nevertheless keeping us, and his daughter, at arm’s length.

Affecting as Fry’s performance is, perhaps the more difficult role falls to Dunham — writer, producer, and star of the landmark HBO series Girls. Exasperated as Dunham’s Ruth is with her dad, she seldom loses sight of how difficult this journey must be for him. And when she finally learns the real reasons why he would not let her take this trip alone, her reaction is a miraculous blend of relief and compassion.

Even as a precious remnant of Holocaust survivors remains with us, it’s deeply disturbing to think we live in a world where a weirdly large percentage of people suspect Hitler didn’t really kill all those people. We’re about to lose all our Edeks. Soon, Treasure reminds us, it will be up to us to carry on, insisting on the unthinkable; depicting the unimaginable.

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  1. A poignant and heart rending film for the serious film goer , the film ‘Treasure’ takes you back to a period when Hitler was instrumental in annihilating millions of jews in Concentration camps which the present generation would hardly believe .Fry as Edek , is convincing while Lena Dunham as Ruth, proves that she is capable of handling serious roles with ease.


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