Hannah Senesh is the Jewish Joan of Arc. As part of the only military operation to attempt a rescue of Jews held in concentration camps, the Hungarian Senesh left Palestine to parachute into Yugoslavia, where she was arrested, tortured and eventually executed. Her story has inspired millions, so why does she comes across as such a pill in the new documentary Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh?
Narrated by Joan Allen, with a wealth of Senesh’s poetry and diary entries quoted, the film makes a fatal misstep by including reenactments. Seeing Senesh brought to humorless life and watching actresses wordlessly portray Jewish prisoners turns Senesh’s story into a lackluster installment of a TruTV television series.
But there’s a larger problem than the flat-footed recreation of Senesh’s final days: Hannah herself. Idolized as a Jewish heroine, the story that comes together from interviews with her ancient friends, fellow parachutists and her own letters and diaries is an intriguing one. Safe in Palestine, Senesh insisted on returning to war-torn Eastern Europe to do her part; then, despite being warned by her colleagues not to continue on her mission into Hungary, Senesh stubbornly went anyway, and was captured in a few hours.
Gradually, the picture that we form of Senesh is that of a woman determined to martyr herself, even drawing comparisons to Joan of Arc by lambasting the men putting her on trial as a traitor. Grossman’s documentary never stops to examine what inner fire made this particular Jewish woman so willing to put herself in such highly dangerous situations; we’re expected to accept that some people are capable of selfless heroic actions—even if their heroics are disastrous failures—and some are not. There remains, however, a sneaking suspicion that Senesh’s motives weren’t as pure as they’re presented to be. After all, who doesn’t want a little credit for their good deeds?
Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh
Directed by Roberta Grossman
At Landmark Sunshine Cinema
Running Time: 86 min.
Tags: Film review
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