Review: Hollow 'Final Account' an interesting documentary in need of some focus
Courtesy of Focus Features
A documentary 13 years in the making, filmmaker Luke Holland’s “Final Account” gathers an assortment of testimonials from a variety of eldery Germans who were witnesses to the crimes of the Third Reich. Holland, who tragically passed away from cancer last summer, charts an eye-opening, enraging, but not entirely revolutionary experience. It’s fascinating watching subjects repent for their complacency during the Holocaust, but it doesn’t have the impact you’d expect. Some don’t show remorse as many of them are/were everyday folk claiming if they had “knew'' what was going on, things would have ended differently.
The interviewees range from veterans; to graduates of prominent Nazi youth groups: Hitlerjugend and the Bund Deutscher (aka the German Girls club); former SS guard members; and one Hitler sympthazier who believed everything The Führer stood for. It’s a sprawling, scattershot approach that could have benefited from the mini-series treatment. We’re talking over a decade of research and footage condensed into a sub 2-hour package and several of the ones who do make the cut reiterate what most audiences already know (and what previous on-air subjects had testified). It isn’t until the last thirty minutes does “Final Account” start cooking, but what could have been an interesting history lesson feels like a chore of exposition and redundancy.
Most responses are different variations of “I had no idea,” - not wanting to admit guilt or their own part in aiding the Nazi party - but, as one subject elquently puts it, anyone who claims to live during this depressing time and not know what was transpiring “are lying.” Holland occasionally grills an apprehensive or admanent subject, but “Final Account” wants audiences to be the judge on how everyday, normal-looking individuals could have allowed such heinous actions to go unchecked. Fear is a prime motivator, many of them citing marching orders: “I was just doing my job,” or “they would have shot me too” which probably helps them sleep at night.
There are plenty of moral (and structural) conundrums that existed throughout my viewing of “Final Account.” On one hand, the willful ignorance and blindness of these subjects is quite staggering and will be shocking to anyone who is hearing their side of the story for the first time, but on the other, a movie that’s festered and boiled this long shouldn’t seem half-baked. The interviews are shown back-to-back - which creates tonal issues - and the repetitious question and answer segments aren’t the shocking indictments one hopes to see in a movie about retired Nazi generals. Holland never got to see the completed version of his “Final Account,” and several pacing and narrative decisions were done without that crucial eye. I hope one day the studio or Holland’s estate decide to make the wealth of archival footage (or one of his rough cuts) public so audiences can see the bigger picture.
FINAL ACCOUNT opens in theaters Friday, May 21st.