August Diehl in Plan A.
It’s a revenge plot so cinematic it’s almost hard to believe it’s a true story: in the immediate aftermath of World War II, as their fellow Jews started to rebuild their shattered lives, a group of fifty-some Holocaust survivors set their sights on Nakam—revenge. Led by a man named Abba Kovner, the group posed as engineers repairing the water works in Nuremberg as part of a plot to poison the water supply and indiscriminately kill as many Germans as possible—“An eye for an eye, six million for six million.”
In their lightly fictionalized version of the Nakam story, directors Yoav and Doron Paz follow Max (August Diehl), a Holocaust survivor who returns to his homeland only to discover that his home has been stolen from him by his German neighbor and his family didn’t make it out of the war alive. Devastated, Max falls in with Michael (Michael Aloni), the leader of a British squad of Jewish soldiers. Michael has a list of SS officers that he and his band are tasked to hunt down and kill, and while Max can’t bring himself to take part in the violence, the assistance he gives in locating these officers and the violent retribution he witnesses shake him out of his PTSD-induced numbness. When his unit is ordered to return home with their work half-done, Michael simply shrugs his shoulders and prepares to head out, but Max can’t let it go. He tracks down Abba Kovner (Ishai Golan) and joins up with Nakam in hopes that they’ll continue the mission, only to get sucked into their plot to poison Nuremberg. “This is madness,” Michael tells him. “For them,” Max replies, “it’s justice.”
August Diehl is best known for playing a role on the opposite side of the World War II conflict: Major Hellstrom, the SS officer who interrupts the clandestine meeting in a basement bar with Bridget von Hammersmark, a phenomenal performance in a pivotal scene in Inglorious Basterds. Whereas there he wore a malicious smirk, Diehl looks positively haunted as Max, his gaunt face and sunken eyes looking positively skeletal. His is the conflicted role in this drama, the one bloodthirsty for revenge for his family but also not always entirely convinced that mass murder is the proper way to achieve it.
The nature of justice is a major theme of this movie, but the bigger one is coping with loss. The main way that the members of Nakam relate to each other is through their shared trauma—nothing buys you into someone’s good graces as quickly as recalling, in vivid detail, the atrocities you witnessed, the brutality inflicted on your own family, and the things you had to do to survive yourself. These survivors find strength in their shared vulnerability, and commonality in the fact that they were forced to make decisions or take actions they regret. As Max puts it, “If you give someone the slightest feeling of hope, they will do anything.”
All this trauma makes for a movie that’s not always easy to watch, but the emotional end result feels earned, not exploitative. There’s a real authenticity, both in the performances and in the gritty, grimy setting of post-War Germany. If you can handle the emotional devastation, the stark presentation of the reality faced by the survivors of the Holocaust and the real ethical quandaries one faces when revenge is an option make for a powerful, necessary watch. | Jason Green
Plan A is available for home viewing as part of the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival running March 6-13, 2022. Individual films are $15 to view while all-access passes for the festival are $98, and viewers must be in the state of Missouri to watch the films. For a full list of films or to purchase tickets, visit jccstl.com/arts-ideas/st-louis-jewish-film-festival/