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Review: Treasure (2024)

Treasure (2024)

Directed by: Julia von Heinz

Premise: Set in 1991, an American journalist (Lena Dunham) travels to Poland with her Holocaust survivor father (Stephen Fry). They visit the father’s childhood home and other locations, leading up to a visit to the Auschwitz death camp. 

What Works: Treasure is about legacy and the extent to which our family histories give us a sense of identity and meaning. Ruth and Edek are daughter and father; the mother of the family has recently passed away and neither parent has talked to their daughter about their experience in the Holocaust. Ruth has planned this trip as a way of filling in gaps in the family history and Edek has accompanied his adult daughter partly out of fear for her safety. Their shared journey is also about reconciling their grief over the death of the mother and those parts of the film fit together effectively. The performances and the filmmaking work together to create vivid characters and a layered story. The father has unresolved trauma over his experiences during the Holocaust; he puts on a brave face but we can observe his simmering fear in Stephen Fry’s performance and in the way the filmmakers stage and edit the action. Ruth has a difficult relationship with her father but her singlehood and lack of children take on a different meaning in this context; against a history of persecution and attempted extermination, rebuilding the family tree represents survival. The starkness of the subject matter contrasts with moments of warmth between father and daughter and between the Americans and some of the Poles that they meet along the way, namely a cab driver (Zbigniew Zamachowski) and the hotel staff.

What Doesn’t: Throughout Treasure there is a tension between the American visitors and some of the locals, especially the family now occupying the house where Edek grew up. The filmmakers don’t portray this family very sympathetically and there’s an implication that they are somehow at fault. But this being 1991 and the residents of the house appearing at best middle aged, these people were not adults (or even alive) during the war. The Polish occupants sell some of the family’s belongings back to them and the haggling is portrayed as somehow unseemly. However, given the recent fall of Communism in Poland, these people are poor and trying to survive. Treasure lacks compassion for these other people in a way that feels unnecessary and out of character with the rest of the film.

Bottom Line: There have been lots of Holocaust dramas over the years but the filmmakers of Treasure find a fresh angle on the subject. It’s a more complex story than it initially appears to be and Treasure dramatizes grief and survival in a way that’s insightful and affecting.

Episode: #1002 (June 30, 2024)