Our protaganist's grandsons at the age our protagonist was when it was discovered he was colorblind and saw green as red.
Preserving stories of perseverance can galvanize staying power. When the forests of utopian-era Czechoslovakia were set on fire by the Nazis in the 1930's to frighten the people, and remind them of who was in charge, our young protagonist saw the forest burn green. This turn, this twist of fate, the ability to re-envision what is, may have contributed to the strength it took to shape a new life that contains a lost world buried within it. 'Red Trees' is the title of an evocative artsy film, 'Red Trees.' An inventive example of memoir - part documentary part re-enactment - that soft peddles awful facts in the service of building drama and tension in a manageable, almost comforting, craftsman-like way. A horrific story of loss and sadness is interwoven with an appreciation of beauty built on a life immersed in constructing a world through creativity and design.
Not another World War II film you might say? This is different. This poetic film evokes feelings of safety with flickers of joy, without gimmickry or glitz. Gutsy, yes, it was financed by a Kickstarter campaign. If I had a crystal ball, I would predict a 2017 Oscar nomination for Red Trees in the foreign film category from either Brazil or England.
For Jews who did not flee Europe under the reign of Nazi Germany, who left after World War II, who emigrated to places outside the United States such as South America, this film is part of your origins story. The Post-War experience for those of us, no matter where our elders settled, who are now third generation post Apocalypse, whose grandparents or great grandparents perished in concentration camps this film is a must see and not to be missed. 'Red Trees,' distributed by the classy Cohen Media Group, opened in select theaters in select cities such as the Quad Cinema in Manhattan and Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles.
Award-winning filmmaker and graphic designer, Marina Willer (Cartas da Mãe), creates an impressionistic visual essay. In this tour de force she traces her father’s family journey as one of only twelve Jewish families to survive the Nazi occupation of Prague, a pearl of Modernism, during World War II. The filmmaker's father emigrates to another place that embraces Modernist aesthetics, the optimistic polyglot of a country, Brazil, where he becomes and architect and the filmmaker is born.
Marina emigrates once again to London, England, as a young adult for college. She stays, building a multi-hyphenate career where, in addition to being an acclaimed filmmaker, she is also a Partner at the world’s largest independent design company - Pentagram. Not just any family, Ms. Willer's grandparents made a fortune manufacturing citric acid a.k.a. Vitamin C, one of the least offensive food preservatives. Most remarkable is the high level of curiosity in Willer's British grandchildren today, as a testament to this family's remarkable legacy of inquisitiveness and productivity.
Cinematography by Academy Award® nominee Uruguyan, César Charlone (City of God), the film travels from war-torn Eastern Europe to the color and light of South America and back to the West. Modernist architecture and design is a constant thread, a backdrop symbolic of a future oriented life restored to fullness, a prelude or foundation to looking back for completion. Told through the voice of Willer’s father Alfred (as narrated by Tim Pigott-Smith, Quantum of Solace), whose presence is diary-like, a reading of testimony of a first hand account from a witness who experienced childhood trauma and rebounded to thrive in life anyway. From idyllic privileged youth to a worldwide meltdown built on bureaucratic nightmares, near escapes, concentration camps and suicides, viewers are delivered to a life where the banality of evil would not predominate.
Father and daughter alike, our protagonist and the filmmaker, their drive and fortitude is palpable and alive in the third generation of grandchildren too. There is an energy about this film that never preaches. It just delivers a propensity to keep going and stay engaged. In the grandfather, even if there has been an aloofness of one who wishes, "not to look but never forget," unanswered questions necessitate a visit to the original crime scenes. Instead of merely taking the viewer down, the narrative builds a story in which being alert, active in and hopeful about the world was the key to survival. The work of psychologist Viktor Frankl based on the study of who survives trauma best comes to mind.
As the world struggles with the current refugee crisis in reverse with migrations from the Third World to the First, RED TREES is a timely look at a family besieged by the atrocities of war to tell the story of finding peace across an ocean. Once again we turn to the cinematic mirror to see what we can learn about the human condition. Some films stick and seep deep inside more than others. As difficult as the territory is, 'Red Trees' is a welcomed presence.
Disclaimer Alert: Though viewing films can reveal insights about life it is not a substitute for therapy. If you or someone you know is suicidal, do not hesitate to reach out to a professional or trusted family member or friend to get needed help.
If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
Tara Fass, LMFT #35078, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, California. She treats adults and couples dealing with a broad range of issues from navigating the legacy of divorce in one's life, to the quarter life crisis and conscious aging. Together we attempt to make meaning [...]