Director: Danny Ben-Moshe
A lot of people probably have quite a cosy image of their father, a benign man who has a steady job, supports the family and plays with his children. So, it is not hard to imagine the shock for brothers Jack, Jon and Sam who start to suspect that their dad, Boris Green, may have been a killer. This is not the plot to a strange teen movie but the real-life experience of a family in Australia who spend several months investigating possible revenge killings undertaken by their Holocaust survivor father against Lithuanian military collaborators who escaped the Nazi round-up at the end of the Second World War.
The only thing to do in a situation like this is to hire a private detective and Danny Ben-Moshe’s film – Revenge: Our Dad the Nazi Killer – has its ready-made structure as a former police officer digs through archival reports of suspicious deaths and personal connections across historic Melbourne in the 1950s, talks to expert witnesses including family members of collaborators who concealed their identity from everyone, and reports it all back to Jack and Jon as each fresh piece of evidence is revealed.
As a director, Ben-Moshe has little to do except sit back and let this fascinating story unfold, ensuring the camera is present at all the right moments to capture those dramatic revelations and allow the extraordinary truths of this story to emerge. It is, of course, more complicated than that as a technical exercise, interspersing the investigation and interviews with searing footage and photography from the Second World War showing the mass execution of Jewish citizens and the death pits filled with their corpses. This context is vital to establishing one of the film’s most important questions – was Boris capable of murder?
The psychological inquiry within Revenge is one of its strongest elements, pitting the brothers against one another, their age gap creating quite different perspectives on their father and the uncle who may have helped him. The struggle to reconcile the gentility of their older relatives with the mounting evidence and the moral burden of determining whether Boris had sufficient extenuating circumstances to commit murder is fascinating, and the viewer can actively see their relationship to each other and to the memory of their parent morphing as the process unfolds.
But we also end the film with a much clearer understanding of the pattern of former-Nazi escapes around the world and the ways in which Jewish revenge organisations decoded and tracked their whereabouts in the decades after 1945. It was “the war after the war,” Jon explains, and the driving force of that is well explained, as is the growing connection the brothers develop with the experience of their father and the far away continent where he grew up.
Justice, revenge or retribution, Ben-Moshe’s film is an engaging detective story on one level but also provides an expanded understanding of the more complicated moral world that emerged in the post-war years and those prepared to do whatever it took to redress the balance. Are you sure you know your dad so well after all?
The UK Jewish Film Festival 2023 takes place in London cinemas from 9-19 November, with a national tour taking place from 9-30 November with a selection of films available online from 20-27 November.