After winning multiple international film festival honors, a short film commemorating victims of the Holocaust will be among Russia’s submissions to the Academy Awards this year.
“Tufelki,” which translates to “Shoes” in English, was directed by Konstantin Fam and swept top honors at the Angel Film Awards of the 11th Monaco International Film Festival, garnering nods for best short film, best director, best producer, best photography, and best original music, according to the Belarusian Telegraph Agency.
The film, which runs a short 18-minutes, tells the story of a female victim of the Auschwitz gas chambers, all from the perspective of her shoes. The young Jewish protagonist’s body is never shown, but the film follows her life–falling in love, getting married, being betrayed by a Nazi collaborator and being sent to Auschwitz–all represented by her feet. The end of the film shows the woman’s shoes, once beautiful red pumps, now displayed as part of an exhibit featuring the shoes of Shoah victims.
Following the Angel Film Awards ceremony, Belarusian director Fam noted that while being able to compete at the festival was an award in itself, the judge’s honors were a tremendous bonus.
“If my art can do anything to reduce violence and misery in the world, my key purpose will be achieved,” Fam said, according to the BTA.
In an interview with the Voice of Russia, Fam, who is the son of a Jewish mother, said the idea for the movie was prompted by a visit to the Auschwitz Museum. The film was financed via crowdfunding, as well as the help of Czech Republic, Poland, France, Belarus, and Russia, reports the Voices of Russia, an indication of the many people who were excited about Fam’s project.
However, not everyone has embraced the film with open arms.
Writing in Haaretz, Olga Gershenson offers a different perspective. Despite the support of organizations like Israel’s Yad Vashem and Poland’s Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, the film ultimately “betrays the memory of Holocaust victims” by insisting on only showing the feet of the victims, thus depriving them of a voice.
“At this point in time it is morally objectionable to make the Holocaust into an abstract picture, devoid of historical detail, devoid of authentic story,” Gershenson writes. “Aesthetically, it’s not only in bad taste. It fetishizes the Holocaust.”
Gershenson suggests the fictional abstractness of the story may have made the picture more palatable to its home audience.
“’Shoes’ not only betrays the memory of the victims (whose stories are generalized to the point of cliché) but also avoids addressing uncomfortable issues of historical responsibility,” she claims. “Even as Soviet censorship ceased to exist, the story of the Holocaust in the occupied Soviet territory remains largely unrepresented. For Russians, it is safer this way: No need to rock the boat, to ask difficult questions about elderly neighbors, or even one’s grandparents.”
The film community will find out if the Academy sides more with Fam or more with Gershenson on January 16, when this year’s nominations will be announced.