Serena Dykman’s feature debut, Nana, hinges on a simple concept: the difference between knowing and understanding. This touching documentary chronicles the life of Dykman’s maternal grandmother, Maryla Michalowski-Dyamant, and her mission to spread awareness about the Holocaust. After years in concentration camps and time as translator for Josef Mengele, Michalowski-Dyamant emerged as her family’s sole survivor and dedicated her life to teaching people about the atrocities she experienced. Decades later, Dykman and her mother follow in their matriarch’s footsteps, sometimes literally, during the making of Nana.
Dykman intersperses archival footage of her grandmother, a prolific public speaker, alongside contemporary scenes of the two women traversing Auschwitz, reading from Michalowski-Dyamant’s memoir, and talking to the people who knew her best. Dykman does well to let her grandmother anchor the film: Michalowski-Dyamant’s charisma and pathos shine through countless cuts of archival footage. More often than not, Michalowski-Dyamant is refreshingly blunt, whether speaking about the last time she saw her mother or cracking one-liners. “How do you like my apartment?” she jokes to a group of students touring the camp barracks, her gallows humor tempering the bleakness.
Nana’s most stirring moment comes when Dykman and her mother reveal the moment when they went from merely knowing about the Holocaust to truly understanding it. With Nana, Dykman aims to carry the torch for her grandmother and other survivors by making the horror of millions profoundly personal.
Directed by Serena Dykman
First Run Features
Opens April 13, Cinema Village
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 11, 2018