Monday, June 27, 2016

Die letzte Chance / The Last Chance (2016 digital restoration by Cinémathèque suisse and Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen)

Viimeinen tilaisuus / Den sista chansen / L’ultima speranza. CH 1945. D: Leopold Lindtberg, SC: Richard Schweizer, Elizabeth Montagu. Cinematography: Emil Berna. ED: Hermann Haller. M: Robert Blum. C: Ewart G. Morrison, John Hoy, Ray Reagan, Luisa Rossi, Giuseppe Galeati, Romano Calò. P: Lazar Wechsler per Praesens Films Zurich. In English, German, Italian and Yiddish. B&w. 113 min
    Restored by Cinémathèque suisse and Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen with the support of Memoriav at Hiventy laboratory, from a nitrate interpositive and from a fragment of a shot from an earlier internegative.
    Restoration team: Carole Delessert, Caroline Fournier, and Michel Dind
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    DCP from Cinémathèque suisse with English subtitles by Sabine Lenz
    Introduce Frédéric Maire (Cinémateque Suisse), presented by Gian Luca Farinelli
    Ritrovati e restaurati
    E-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra.
    Cinema Jolly, 27 June 2016

Bologna catalog (n.c): "“Die letzte Chance deserves its place as a classic among prominent postwar films” (Hervé Dumont). Coming a year after Marie-Louise, it marks a new oeuvre for Leopold Lindtberg: a deeply humanist film on the theme of war refugees in Switzerland."

"When it decided to portray the situation of refugees, Praesens Film immediately encountered numerous difficulties with the federal government, which was not really in favour of a work potentially critical of its position. The connections of the filmmakers – director Leopold Lindtberg and screenwriter Richard Schweizer in particular – with the Schauspielhaus, considered to be a ‘den of refugees’ with communist connections, encouraged the government to regard the project with utmost suspicion. On several occasions the army complicated the shoot, forbidding access to certain planned locations and refusing to grant authorisation to film. Once the film was finished, every effort was made to delay its release, at least until the end of the war. Certain Germanophile members of the military even demanded the destruction of the negative. To obtain its release, the producers had to accept that a scene be shortened. Still, Richard Schweizer’s screenplay was the fruit of long conversations and investigations, even if, according to director Leopold Lindtberg: “The story of this film is a harmless fairytale compared to the real facts. […] It is not a film for those who have known misfortune, but for all the others – the happy, the spared – that it might encourage them to think”."

"Die letzte Chance met with major international success. It won a Grand Prix at Cannes in 1946, where the jury of the National Union of Intellectuals, presided by Paul Éluard, awarded it the International Peace Award. Distributed by MGM in the United States, it won a Golden Globe. Georges Sadoul and Henri Langlois, and filmmakers Jean Grémillon, Alberto Lattuada, Luigi Comencini and Alfred Hitchcock in particular sang the praises of the film, which rigorously presents the vicissitudes of war and persecution."
(n. c.)

AA: Leopold Lindtberg's masterpiece The Last Chance is a key Holocaust movie, and one of the extremely rare ones that were shot in Europe during the Holocaust itself. The principal production took place in 1944, and the Zürich premiere was on 26 May 1945. The Last Chance is a fiction film, but the protagonists are actual soldiers and refugees playing roles not far from their real identities and experiences. Even the director Lindtberg and his regular screenwriter Richard Schweizer were refugees whose status in Switzerland was perilous although they had distinguished careers there in the theatre and the cinema. The Polish-born producer Lazar Wechsler was a Swiss citizen, firmly established in Switzerland since WWI, and his production company Praesens-Film had become the artistic and commercial stronghold of Swiss cinema. The Last Chance is a key film of Jewish experience in many ways, but that aspect is de-emphasized, as the film-makers want to express a universal concern in the same way as the makers of Night and Fog would do.

Frédéric Maire in his introduction quoted Leopold Lindtberg's remark that the story of his film is a fairy-tale compared to reality. But I think the audience got the message today from the film itself and always has. A film like this has to be about hope. We are aware that the little group of refugees rescued into Switzerland after many dangerous turns during their flight are the lucky exceptions. Such was the case since Switzerland declared that "das Boot is voll", "the ship is full". There were, however, decent people in all walks of life who practised civil disobedience and saved lives.

A firm sense of the contemporary reality is the unique distinction of The Last Chance. It was highly regarded from the start, and its value will grow as an expresssion of the first-hand sense of the refugee experience during WWII. The real feeling, the authentic expressions, and the general atmosphere are convincing, and some clumsiness and some flat dubbing do not harm fatally because there is a raw fundamental energy that conveys a sense of a devastating period.

The story is exciting. The film starts with a train being bombed and soldiers on the run hiding at farms and haystacks, narrowly escaping control patrols. There is a lyrical scene at Lago Maggiore at night when an Italian girl warns the two Allied soldiers against an escape at moonlight on the lake. But: "Tornate! Armistizio!" Yet the situation is still perilous. The soldiers embark on a freight car, ascend on a mountain, cross a bridge, and get help from a courageous priest in a mountain village near the Swiss border. Snow falls on the mountains. "Il Duce è libero": the tables turn again, and the turncoat of the village informs on everyone to the Nazis. The soldiers help refugees sheltered by the priest towards the border on the mountains. At the start at the train station they have seen something that has shattered them to the core, and they know that there will be no hope for the refugees if Nazis catch them.

In the finale The Last Chance turns into a Bergfilm. The soldiers help the tired group of refugees. Some of them have been on the run for ten years. There is a baby among them, and there is old Hillel who is exhausted. He catches a Nazi bullet and dies in the snow. Also Bernhard is shot, he who led the Nazis astray to save everybody. Even Johnny the soldier is hit. He makes it to Switzerland and refuses to go to the hospital and insists in staying with the refugees. Everyone is then taken to safety with Johnny. He has learned to understand what a concentration camp means. The film ends with Johnny's funeral and last post bugle call. The scholar among the refugees has lost all his manuscript pages about the history of the refugee question in Europe. "But I know what I want to say. Always". Still there are millions walking in Europe. There is an epic distant shot of an endless line of refugees in the snow.

A fine job of restoration from often challenging sources (the original negative does not exist). The result is always pleasant to watch, doing justice to Emil Berna's distinguished cinematography, and often the visual quality is really good.

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