Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Directed by: #GiacomoGabrielli
Written by: Giacomo Gabrielli
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” - George Santayana
The philosopher’s quote has been reinterpreted over the decades with the common phrase now being those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it but the sentiment has never been more prevalent than it is now. The current state of the world is marred with economic crises, ecological disaster and surging far-right fanaticism that leaves many worried about what the future may hold. With Giacomo Gabrielli’s documentary drama A Journey it is an attempt to bridge the divide between generations through parallel odysseys of memory about the horrors of the Holocaust. With the remaining survivors reaching their elder years, subject Arek Hersh being 90 years old at the time of his interview, the importance and value of his insights are now more essential than ever.
It is both Hersh’s journey during the Holocaust but also the journey of student Aurora Volcan participating in a Memory Train project in Italy which educates students about the history and locations involving the Holocaust. Even though it's only been seventy years since the genocide, there are legitimate concerns that growing far-right ideas and anti-Semitic, racist beliefs will attempt to delegitimise the history of this period. Holocaust deniers in the age of fake news and social media will surely soon take advantage of the absence of survivors but Gabrielli’s film highlights the necessity of education to the younger generations. Although his direction can feel passive at points, relying too much on the work of his subjects to recount history rather than finding the connections between the two generations. The pacing of the film can also feel frustrating at times, with Gabrielli inserting docudrama elements into Volcan's story that breaks the realism. A Journey then struggles in finding a consistent narrative balance between Hersh and Volcan’s stories by dragging itself out unintentionally.
However, the film provides incredible access into these programmes and histories through Gabrielli not allowing the film to censor what the subjects experience. The film does its best to provide visuals to Hersh’s incredible stories but his experiences are best processed when just holding on his close up, to see the stories told through his eyes and expressions. Hersh exclaims he shall never forgive the Nazi’s for what was done and the camera captures the complexity of these emotions of grief, anger, fear but also courage as he takes his most traumatic memories and uses them as a tool to educate against hate. With Volcan’s journey, the audience is recounted with songs and stories but also locations as the film ends with both characters time at Auschwitz. Even though separated by generations the audience can feel this history bleed through the screen as Gabrielli has all of Hersh’s memories become haunting inescapable truth. His wisdom informs this imagery, the dread of seeing scratch marks on the wall, the terror of what these monuments represent.
The lessons of the Holocaust are the central theme to A Journey, the importance that this history not be erased and that the memories of the survivors be preserved and used to educate the younger generations. Although genocides have continued to be perpetrated in the decades since Gabrielli has the film focus on the perseverance of those who refuse to allow it to go unanswered. Hersh’s legacy along with the commitment of Memory Train and other organisations to enlighten and inform allow Aurora Volcan’s spiritual and educational journey to be possible.