Documentary In Heaven Underground offers a history of Jewish life in Berlin as seen through Weissensee, “the largest active Jewish cemetery in Europe.” We begin at the cemetery’s founding in 1880, view monuments to Jews swept up in patriotic fervor and dying for the “Vaterland” in WWI, hear of spiking suicides during the Third Reich–era betrayal, then see the cemetery sinking into neglect when sealed away in East Germany—each period represented by someone who had visited Weissensee at the time or who has a relation from the period buried there. An emotionally instructive score adds sorrow onto sorrow, and playfulness where there is none, though what could enhance the mixture of tragedy and black humor shown by one interviewee who recounts the loss of his teenaged girlfriend to Auschwitz, then ruefully remembers, “There were no more Jewish girls to pick up”? At times, director Britta Wauer seems to be indulging every digression she can to breach feature length. Most interesting are the instances of official German contrition: soldiers laying headstones on unmarked graves, high-schoolers doing a printmaking project where they design themselves headstones marked with Stars of David. The film is flecked with moments of interest, though this decidedly minor and not particularly cinematographic affair is clearly best suited to television.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 16, 2011