Uprising (2001) (2001) Review
(More customer reviews)"Uprising" is a story of the Holocaust that really could not be told until NBC showed this two-part made-for-television movie in 2001. The story of the Warsaw ghetto uprising has been told before. In the 1978 mini-series "Holocaust," a major subplot had to do with Moses Weiss (Sam Wanamker), who becomes active in the uprising before being caught and shot by the Nazis at the end. Other movies dealing with the Holocaust have touched on this heroic but futile act of resistance against Hitler's army. This time, however, the point is to cast the uprising in terms that count for more than a moral victory.
When Poland fell to Nazi Germany the city's Jewish population was put into a walled in section of the city, thereby creating the ghetto. In the summer of 1942, after 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw to Treblinka the first reports of mass murder were heard in the Warsaw ghetto. Mordecai Anielewicz, then 23-years-old, and other young Jews formed the Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Organization), issuing proclamations calling for the Jewish people to resist being sent away in railroad cars to the death caps, and firing upon German troops trying to round by Jews for deportation.
The "Uprising" began on April 19, 1943, when German troops and police entered the ghetto and were repulsed by the fighters. It is believed that less than a thousand such fighters held off the heavily armed and better trained Germans for almost a month, using mostly pistols and Molotov cocktails, but on May 16 the revolt was finally crushed. Seven thousand of the 56,000 Jews captured were shot, and the rest were deported to either killing centers or concentration camps to be exterminated by the Nazis. At one point the Warsaw ghetto consisted of 450,000 human beings.
The point of "Uprising" is not only that for the first time somebody stood up against German occupation, but that some of the fighters did indeed survive. Mordechai Anielewicz (Hank Azaria), Yitzhak Zuckerman (David Schwimmer), Tosia Altman (Leelee Sobieski), and many others depicted in "Uprising" are historic figures. Azaria and Schwimmer obviously stand out, not because of the roles they play in the narrative but also because the actors are going to great pains to remind fans they are not just comic actors. Also standing out are Sadie Frost as Zuckerman's wife, Zivia, and Stephen Moyer as freedom fighter Kazik Rodem, who wrestle with the hard questions of not only knowing what to do, but how to do it. Director and executive producer Jon Avnet has recreated the ghetto in great detail and makes full use of cinematographer Denis Lenoir and composer Maurice Jarre to make sure this television movie looks and sounds like a theatrical film.
"Uprising" repeatedly asks the question of how a moral person can sustain a moral code in an immoral world, and the uprising serves as the obvious answer. Where "Uprising" is different from its predecessors is how Avnet recasts history to emphasize a sense of how the Jews "win" here. Even though the Nazis will kill 99% of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, they did not get them all and they did not get them fast enough to please Himmler and Hitler. Nazi General Jurgen Stroop has to endure being out thought and out fought by a bunch of rabble, all the way having his failure filmed by documentarian Fritz Hippler, who is working on "The Eternal Jew" because for some reason the Nazis do not find the German people to be anti-Semitic enough. The Nazis continue to commit atrocities throughout this movie, but the emphasis is clearly on what the other side is doing.
"The Grey Zone," which also came out in 2001, is of a similar mind in terms of presenting Jews fighting back, and depicts the October 7, 1944 uprising when members of the 12th sonder-kommando succeeded in blowing up two of the four crematoria at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The sonder-kommandos were the ones who escorted their fellow Jews to die in the gas chambers, then took the bodies to the crematoriums, and disposed of the ashes. For four months the sonder-kommandos carried out their duties, and enjoyed certain privileges (compared to the other inmates), and then were executed. This group of Jews also decided to fight back and like those who resisted the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto, deserve to be remembered. But only once we have accepted the total horror and scope of the Holocaust can we tell stories such as these, ever mindful that they represent a minority report. How many of you were stunned with a train full of Jews left Auschwitz in "Schindler's List"? The incident was true, but it becomes difficult for us to accept that other side of the story given the overwhelming death count of the Final Solution.
The two commentary tracks are a mixed bag. Avnet spends too much time commenting on the historical accuracy of the action and not enough talking about his decisions as a director, particularly with regards to what changes he had to make when his planned theatrical film was downgraded to a television movie. Azaria, Schwimmer, and Voight recorded their commentary two weeks about September 11th, and engage each other to talk about the production and their performances. Sobieski's comments were recorded separately and edited in, and like Avent, she has a hard time going it alone. There are two documentaries accompanying "Uprising." "Resistance" is a too brief look at the history of the resistance movement in the Warsaw ghetto, although it does provide background on the characters and interviews with some of the surviving fighters. "Breaking Down the Walls: The Road to Recreating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising," is a behind the scenes featurette with clips and interviews. However, anyone inspired to find out more about the history of the events dramatized here will find plenty of resources easily accessible on the Internet.
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After Germany invades Poland in 1939, the Nazis decree that 350,000 Warsaw Jews be forcibly moved into a cordoned area known as the Warsaw Ghetto. Idealistic teacher Mordechai Anielewicz (Hank Azaria) decides the Jews must rise up against the Nazis and creates the Jewish Fighting Organization (JFO).He tries to secure the support of Adam Czerniakow (Donald Sutherland), the morally conflicted head of the Warsaw Ghetto's Jewish Council, but Adam declines because he knows that any act of resistance will provoke the Germans to retaliate by killing innocent Jews.Determined to mobilize a resistance alone if he has to, Mordechai recruits his friends and covert couriers whose ability to pass as Aryan helps them smuggle in arms and explosives from the Aryan side of the city, building up an arsenal to fight the Nazis. When the Germans begin deporting 300,000 Jews to the Treblinka death camp, the JFO begins acts of resistance that culminate with ghetto fighters firing their first gunshots against the Nazis.When it becomes clear that the JFO is a force to be reckoned with, the German High Command sends in General Stroop (Jon Voight), who is determined to end the uprising in two or three days. Capturing the horror that unfolds is Fritz Hippler (Cary Elwes), a filmmaker assigned by Hitler's chief propagandist to promote anti-Semitism with a film about Jewish life in the ghetto. When the Nazis continue to suffer more casualties in their battle with the ghetto fighters, General Stroop decides to raze the ghetto.But even that can't stop the JFO.Forced to go underground into bunkers but energized by their success, the resisters fight on, ultimately holding off the Nazi army longer than the entire country of Poland.They're determined to live with honor--and if need be, die with honor--while lighting the torch for resistance in the occupied territories.