Passenger (1963)

What a difficult film to approach, let alone appraise; I don’t suppose any film touching on the Holocaust is ever easily approachable, but this is harder than most. Second Run’s presentation doesn’t altogether help (an odd glitch at one point fucked the image up), being a non-anamorphic presentation of what should’ve apparently been a Scope film in cropped form, although on their website they note that was all they could get either from the production company or the Polish archives. But the film was also famously “cropped” in mid-shoot by the death of director Andrzej Munk, with the unfinished thing being released two years later with additional stills and commentary. It’s that which really makes the film hard, because Munk never got to shoot whatever else he had to do (plus reshoot existing scenes he was unhappy with). It’s a story of two women, one a prisoner at Auschwitz,  the other a German guard; the latter sees the other boarding a cruise ship she’s travelling on, and this spurs her to remember their time in the camp in two different ways, one in which she tries to convince herself she treated the other woman well and the other in which she remembers what actually happened. I can’t believe no one seems to know how Munk actually intended to end the film, but so it seems; interestingly, the commentary at the end of the film seems to speculate that whether or not the other woman actually was the prisoner from Auschwitz was perhaps meant to be left an open question. The DVD booklet essay insists we take the film as it exists as a finished work, and to some extent that’s possible, but with so much apparently still unclear about what Munk was really going to do with it if it hadn’t been for that accident in 1961, it’s hard to say anything too definitive about the film, least of all whether he was successful with it.

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