There’s More Important Things Than Awards: A Talk with Oscar-Winning Director Stefan Ruzowitzky

counterfeitersIn the production notes for his Oscar-winning foreign film about Jews pressed into nefarious service by the Nazis, director Stefan Ruzowitzky makes a rather startling claim: “Since Life is Beautiful one can, may and indeed must narrate individual fates which don’t claim to represent all victims.” Presumably, this is a nod to Life‘s own Oscar win several years ago; but I suspected there was a bit more behind Ruzowitzky’s assertion than that.

I was therefore glad to have the opportunity, courtesy of a local publicist, to speak with Ruzowitzky over the phone a couple of weeks prior to the Oscars—and I asked him specifically about Life is Beautiful and Schindler’s List. How, I wanted to know, did these films open new doors for pictures about the Holocaust?

Unlike Schindler’s List‘s Amon Goeth, the antagonist here, Herzog, is not revealed to us through inside information. Instead, he’s fictionally based on the first-person recollections of another of the counterfeiters, Adolf Burger. So we see in Herzog a man who is “charming, friendly, always good-looking,” says Ruzowitzky: a real “manager-politician” who is fully capable of dreaming up “new, beautiful words” for extermination. And yet the only handle we get on what makes him tick is by examining his character through the lens of the prisoners themselves—and Sorowitsch, specifically. It is an approach that asks us to examine ourselves, and our country.

—post by Greg Wright of Past the Popcorn.

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