Inside Hana's Suitcase
A documentary saga of heartbreaking concentration-camp horrors, Inside Hana's Suitcase attempts to preserve Holocaust memories through frustratingly fractured means. Working from Karen Levine's book, director Larry Weinstein details the efforts of Japanese schoolteacher Fumiko Ishioka to piece together the life of young Czechoslovakian Hana Brady, whose suitcase Ishioka receives from the Auschwitz Museum as a tool to teach students about the terrible consequences of prejudice. Weinstein's investigation into Hana's life leads her to the girl's brother George, who survived years in camps and created a new life and family in Toronto, but the film's story is told through a bewildering mixture of devices: George tearfully retells his experiences and visits Auschwitz with his daughter; juvenile Czech, Japanese, and Canadian students awkwardly narrate Hana's tale; and dramatic re-creations (replete with cheesy CG effects, like a zoom into Hana's eye reflecting roaring gas-chamber fires) push the material into corniness. Still, structural disarray can't negate the emotional impact of George's recollections, none more devastating than his hearing that, on her way to Auschwitz, Hana had her hair done and cheeks pinched (for extra rosiness) in order to look good for her beloved brother.
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