A Letter Without Words | Chicago Reader

A Letter Without Words

In 1981 filmmaker Lisa Lewenz discovered a trove of home movies taken by her Jewish grandmother, Ella; this informative 1998 documentary incorporates much of that footage and reminiscences from surviving relatives to reconstruct the Lewenz family's life in Dresden and Berlin at the dawn of the Nazi era. Lisa Lewenz captures the gilded existence of the German-Jewish upper crust in the 30s (including home-movie images of Albert Einstein, Walter Gropius, and Brigitte Helm), and her grandmother definitely had an eye for pretty, postcard images—some in Kodak color—that could be used for Ralph Lauren ads. Lewenz, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute, clearly identifies with Ella, retracing her steps and drawing strained parallels between them. But her gratingly self-absorbed narration glosses over her father's conversion to Christianity and her professed ignorance of his Jewish heritage; in the end, Ella's cinematic legacy illuminates only part of the family's history.

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