Directed by: Rami Kodeih
Written by: Nora Mariana Salim
Starring: Alia Shawkat, William Mark McCullough
From the word go, Rami Kodeih’s Alina thrusts you in the hell known as Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. As per the orders, the Nazis are in the process of separating Jewish children under the age of ten from their families. Among others, a group of women is affected by this decision, and Alina shows the horror through their lens.
The objective is simple: The women must smuggle one of their friend’s three-month-old baby to safety. Easier said than done. Alina (a resolute Alia Shawkat) is assigned the task of carrying the baby out of the apartment. The gunshots raging in the distance threaten to approach nearer within every passing second. Outside, the Nazi soldiers are roaming on the streets. Truly, the night is dark and full of terrors. Will the operation be successful?
Let’s get one fact out of the way: Alina has one of those stories that is well-suited for a short film. If converted into a feature, one might have to add unnecessary drama to pad the runtime and slide in backstories so that we “care for the people” in it. All those aspects are inessential as the period, and the motivation is enough to inspire regard for the main characters. As for the drama, Alina’s plot is already filled with sufficient thrill, and stretching it would only dilute its effect. I am so glad Alina was made into a 26-minute short film.
Kodeih utilizes his minutes with utmost efficiency. He understands that a narrative like this should be propelled through tension, and so he crafts moments of tight suspense (with the help of a time-ticking sound and uneasy editing) that don’t allow you to breathe in fear of getting caught by the ruthless Nazis. A stupendous scene near a checkpoint is so taut you become restless. Alina keeps coming up with nerve-racking developments, driving you to wish for this nightmare to end. As Captain Drauz (an intimidating William Mark McCullough) interrogates Alina, the two are filmed with a handheld approach keeping the situation on the verge of sliding towards a malignant fate (cinematography by Matthew Plaxco).
Alina takes a sturdy Captain like Drauz to expose the hollow masculinity of the Nazis. He is stern and strict but also a pea-brain. Drauz is so proud of himself and his superiority, he misses the baby even after coming dangerously close to her. He looks scary from the outside. Peek inside him, and you will find no acuity. He says he is on to Alina though he is not able to pick up the clues lying around him. Empty vessels make the most noise.