The two dozen Holocaust survivors first-time filmmaker Isaac Hertz interviews in his collection of oral histories Life Is Strange vary widely in notoriety — Israeli president Shimon Peres and children’s author Uri Orlev appear, along with a panoply of bigwig academics and family friends of Hertz’s — but all tell absorbing tales of their experiences during the war and subsequent emigration to Israel or the United States.
Hertz gives equal time to their happy memories, as if to show the horrors they experienced neither erased the sunnier days before nor ruined their lives thereafter. He intercuts the interview footage with archival clips of Jewish life both during festive occasions and in the misery of the camps.
Hertz hasn’t framed his subjects’ stories into a singular, compelling narrative, however, which makes his 95-minute film feel shapeless. The film is further weakened by a bizarre device: After telling us in the opening voiceover that he was always drawn to people two generations older than himself, Hertz promptly hands over the vocal reigns to Zachary Cirino, a child (or an actor with a child’s voice), who offers observations and rhetorical questions from the perspective of a boyhood Hertz.
These Look Who’s Talking-style interjections are distracting and unnecessary, with one affecting exception: When Peres recalls his return as an adult to a well his family drank from when he was a boy, Cirino-as-Hertz reflects, “All I want to do is get older.”