Whether fairly or not, films about the Holocaust have become notorious for their moralistic slant, a tendency to collapse all too easily into pat lessons that We Must Never Forget, and similar sentiments. That's what we have here with THE BIRCH-TREE MEADOW, an admittedly well-intentioned film that never becomes more than a high-minded history lesson.Anouk Aimee plays an aging Holocaust survivor who returns to the now-decaying site of the infamous Birkenau concentration camp (the name of which translates into English as "a birch-tree meadow") to relive memories of those evil days. There, she meets another sightseer, a young German man with his own reasons for visiting the camp.
And... that's about it, really. This is the problem with THE BIRCH-TREE MEADOW, and it's a big problem: its approach to its subject is essentially non-dramatic. Mainly, the movie consists of Aimee wandering around and, well, remembering things. She has no clearly defined goal. It's hard to dramatize a person's internal conflicts; somehow, you have to find a visual correlative to moods, feelings, thoughts, none of which are easily expressed. Director Marceline Loridan Ivens falls considerably short of the task.
For all the undeniable weight of its subject matter, the film feels thin, undeveloped. Its defects are only underscored by the awkward ending, a strained attempt to bring down the curtain on a "powerful" note.Though it's nice to see Anouk Aimee again, you're finally left with a movie more noble than skillful.