top of page



average rating is 5 out of 5


William Hemingway


Posted on:

Nov 15, 2022

Film Reviews
Directed by:
Andreas Kessler
Written by:
Fabien Virayie
Anton Krymskiy, Jevgenij Sitochin, Peter Miklusz

In today's world climate it may be difficult to think that not so long ago those of us in the West had no real idea about the story of Ukraine. Usually bundled in under the purview of the Soviet Union, the real life stories of the land and its people have tended to be overlooked, forgotten or just never been told. During the Second World War, Ukraine was no different to other European countries in the treatment of its people by the Nazis. As a land of farmers and workers it was easy for the occupying forces to breeze through the small settlements and villages re-educating, reducing and relocating the people as they went – this treatment obviously being infinitely more so for Ukrainian Jews.


In 2002, Jonathan Safran Foer shone a light on just how terrifying this treatment was as he investigated the total annihilation of Trachimbrod, a Jewish shtetl where his grandfather had lived, through his excellent novel, Everything Is Illuminated. This was then turned into a watered down, broad brush strokes film version in 2005. Now, in Nakam, from film-maker Andreas Kessler we are party to another famous story from this time, of which most of us will likely still never have heard.


Nakam, in Hebrew, means revenge. It was also the name of a paramilitary organisation formed after the end of the war by around fifty Holocaust survivors who determined to set the balance of the scales right again by plotting to murder six million Germans – a plot which ultimately failed. Kessler instead chooses to focus on a much smaller, more intimate enactment of revenge told through the real life story of Mordechai 'Motele' Schlein, a young teenage boy who was known to play violin at an eatery frequented by Nazi officers.


In Kessler's film, the young violinist is Mitka (Krymskiy), who has found his way recently to a new village since losing his home and his parents to the Nazi occupation. He plays every day alongside Yegor (Sitochin), a kindly old man who plays the piano and who has taken Mitka under his wing, as they make music for the guests of the tavern in return for something to eat for themselves. However, neither Yegor nor anyone else knows that Mitka is Jewish and that he has fallen in with a partisan group of resistance fighters who are determined to take revenge upon the occupying forces.


When SS officer Seegler (Miklusz) takes an interest in Mitka and his playing, then resolves to bring more of his SS colleagues to the tavern for an evening of light entertainment and the further plotting of genocide, the resistance decides that it's time to spring the trap and bomb the building with all of the Nazis inside. Mitka is all ready to go along with this but suddenly he's having doubts. What if Yegor is also caught in the blast? What of the tavern owner and his daughter? Can he really count them as collateral damage in this overt act of revenge? Do the ends actually justify the means?


What is immediately striking about Nakam is the attention to detail that is used to tell the story. From the costumes, to the setting, to the ways the characters talk and interact, switching from Russian to German to Yiddish, everything is placed and used for maximum authenticity. It is clear that Kessler wanted to do the story justice and took painstaking efforts to ensure that the audience felt transported back to a particular time and place. The acting, too, seems to come from a very personal space with cast and crew sharing family stories on set to inform and enhance the performances we see on screen.


The three main leads each do an outstanding job of portraying their characters, these being archetypes which could be multiplied and recognised the whole country over, but who are fleshed out and performed with nuance and humanity to stand them out as individuals in a singular situation. Yegor is the everyday layman, rolled-over and resigned to his new fate while still doing what he can to survive; Untersturmfuhrer Seegler is the amiable SS officer who offers a smile and a friendly hand while also organising the submission and extermination of anyone who gets in his way; and Mitka is the hot-headed youth ready to see justice done and revenge meted out without being fully able to account for the atrocities of war nor truly count the cost of a single victory. Anton Krymskiy in particular delivers here a mature and accomplished performance as the conflicted Mitka.


It is a testament to the skill and understanding of Fabien Virayie's script and Andreas Kessler's direction that so much is able to be given to the viewer within a thirty minute runtime. There is so much to unpack from each character – their inner conflict, old world view and reaction to the new order – as well as from the overarching scenario, that it is easy to be affected or overwhelmed by the events playing out on screen. There are certain moments which cut deep to the core of what it is to be human and which strike a chord across countries and decades without reaching for an answer to it all or offering a judgement on what is right – which is, of course, how it should be.


It is an indictment of the fallibility of humanity and the current world order that we should again be facing the same atrocities being carried out upon the same people in their own land, just with different aggressors in different uniforms. If a film like Nakam can tell us anything it's that we should have learned from what has gone before – but to do that we must first hear the stories of those who have been silenced for so long.

About the Film Critic
William Hemingway
William Hemingway
Short Film, World Cinema
bottom of page