Review: The Invisibles
THE INVISIBLES is an ambitious film that tries to bridge the gap between documentary and historical drama. It tells the story, in the words of survivors, of Jewish citizens of Berlin who went into hiding, often in plain sight, rather than board the trains to the concentration camps in World War II. That hiding involved allies in unlikely places, forgeries, watching out for collaborators, and acts of vigilance and daring.
Obviously, much of this is well trod ground. Being focused on the heart of Nazi Germany provides an extra level of provocation and suspense, but it’s not fundamentally different than the stories told throughout Nazi occupied Europe of the 1940s. To combat this familiarity, director Claus Räfle employees a remarkable degree of reenactments to dramatize the situations his survivors are describing. We have perilous meetings on the streets, searches, curious glances on public transportation, suspicious landlords, and many more examples along with a generous mixture of period footage of Berlin to liven up what could be a static talking heads documentary.
Does the experiment work? I found it to be of mixed results. Despite being handsomely photographed, the reenactments rarely tell us information that the voiceovers aren’t telling us at the same time. And the voiceovers and interviews sap a good deal of suspense out of the reenactments of THE INVISIBLES when it’s self evident that these survivors aren’t going to be suddenly rounded up and shot. And, with the narrative jumping around to multiple stories, there’s not in the way of narrative momentum and nuance for any one set of stories. As a drama, THE INVISIBLES leaves much to be desired.
Still, as a documentary there’s much to recommend about THE INVISIBLES. This may be somewhat familiar ground, but it’s still thoroughly gripping material. And the subjects of the interviews are all articulate and thoughtful. These survivors’ tales are well chosen in that they all have unique circumstances and they even crossover in certain ways. Plus, having one of the survivors being engaged in forging papers and another one involved in something of a resistance movement, makes that the subjects often get to discuss a degree of agency that’s not always present in these stories.
Those strengths of subject and interviews help overcome that somewhat mixed bag results of the cinematic experiment. I’d like to say that THE INVISIBLES is a successful fresh approach, but it’s not. It’s simply a good example of a well trod documentary subject that has enough fresh stories to be worth a visit to theaters or on home video.