Kapo (1960)

GILLO PONTECORVO

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

Italy/France/Yugoslavia, 1960, , , .  Screenplay by Gillo Pontecorvo, .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by , .  Academy Awards 1960.  

Before making his masterful Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo directed this deeply affecting concentration camp drama.  is excellent as a Parisian teen who sees her parents being carted off in a truck and, despite the fact that she could have saved herself, gets deported along with them. Before long she is separated from her family and put in a camp in the middle of Europe, unable to comprehend the terror of what is happening to her before she is given the opportunity for survival: the Nazi soldiers treat her well in exchange for her making herself bodily available to them, and it promotes her to the position of Kapo, a prison guard who is still an inmate but granted special privileges. Pontecorvo makes the great tragedy of this terrible chapter in European history the destruction of the moral soul, with this young girl becoming cruel and emotionless by the treatment she receives at the hands of an evil regime, and it is not until the appearance of a gorgeous Russian prisoner of war () that she is given the opportunity to regain her soul. Of course, its conceit is problematic (men take away her humanity, another man gives it back…what does the woman do? Lie there and take it?) but the acting and directing are excellent, and the sense of time and place are incredibly effective (the subject of the Holocaust was still very little on Hollywood’s mind, with The Diary of Anne Frank being the first major film to deal with the subject and was only released the year before). Emmanuelle Riva has a superb supporting role (just after her breakthrough in Hiroshima, Mon Amour) as a fellow inmate who foolishly believes that she can hold on to her humanity despite the circumstances.

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