In 1938, Nazi Germany annexed the country of Austria. For the young Vienna resident Ferry Tobler, this was a troubling action. For one, he was Jewish. Secondly, the Nazis murdered his father, leaving the teenage boy alone to try to survive in a Europe that was becoming increasingly deadly.
In 1938, Nazi Germany annexed the country of Austria.
For the young Vienna resident Ferry Tobler, this was a troubling action. For one, he was Jewish. Secondly, the Nazis murdered his father, leaving the teenage boy alone to try to survive in a Europe that was becoming increasingly deadly.
Tobler is the main character in God Does Not Believe in Us Anymore, a low-key tragedy about a boy making his way across a war-torn continent while relying on the few allies around him. One of Tobler’s main allies sums up their struggle thusly: “will not survive because people are good, but because they are sloppy.” It’s a hard truth to face.
This film is one of many playing during the 16th annual Portland Jewish Film Festival, launched by the Northwest Film Center in partnership with the Institute of Judaic Studies. The festival started last week and will continue until April 17, and features films from various parts of the world, and from different decades, but all the works are accounts of the Jewish experience.
And God Does Not Believe in Us Anymore, the first part of the “Where to and Back” trilogy, is a story of the most harrowing time for Jews during the 20th century. It’s about one kid and his few surprising friends, including a former Nazi officer, who help Tobler at the risk of death.
The greatest strength of the film is how it avoids overselling anything. There are no sweeping violins, or overt dwelling on tragic deaths or events. And these events in God Does Not Believe in Us Anymore are life changing, not only for the characters but also for the world.
I don’t pretend to know how it was for people on the run from Germans during the late ’30s and ’40s. I think, though, that there wouldn’t be time (as the film shows) to linger over events–there would be no time to reflect. You have to keep moving. The young Tobler reflects only on his loss of belief in right or wrong.
So it’s refreshing to see these horrible circumstances play out without tacked-on sentimentality or examining horrific images. Instead, the film–originally made for Austrian television in 1982–follows Tobler in almost documentary fashion as he avoids the concentration camps.
The film does drag at times. Despite being a hurried tale, the film pauses for sometimes banal dialogue. But besides these few moments, God Does Not Believe in Us Anymore is a subdued account of a horrendous struggle. Even with its flaws, the movie is a great, humbling picture of perseverance.
Santa Fe, the second film in the trilogy, begins with some of the same characters traveling on a boat to America. These are the lucky ones. The rest have fallen dead or are trapped back in Europe.
The protagonist in Santa Fe switches from Tobler to the slightly older Freddy Wolff as he struggles to survive in a foreign land already inundated with refugees and immigrants. Along with his fellow Germans, he waits fervently for the United States to enter the war so that they can put a stop to the destruction against their Jewish compatriots still stuck in Europe.
Santa Fe is still tragic, but it offers more respite from tragedy than its predecessor, and a bit more comic relief.
Jewish Film Festival scheduleAll screenings at the Whitsell Auditorium (1219 S.W. Park Ave.)
Aviva, My Love7 p.m., Saturday, April 12
A Hebrew Lesson4 p.m., Sunday, April 13
God Does Not Believe in Us Anymore7 p.m., Sunday, April 13
Santa Fe7 p.m., Monday, April 14
Welcome to Vienna7 p.m., Tuesday, April 15
Refusenik7 p.m., Wednesday, April 16
My Mexican Shiva7 p.m., Thursday, April 17