Nathan-ism (2023)
Nathan-ism (2023)

Genre: Documentary Running Time: 1 hr. 19 min.

Release Date: April 5th, 2023 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Elan Golod Actors: Nathan Hilu, Elan Golod

 


 

“Y

our camera takes movies, right?” Director/producer/editor Elan Golod uses archival images, recordings, and audio, as well as animation, stills, and more to chronicle and reenact 90-year-old Nathan Hilu’s activities as he recounts his involvement in the Nuremberg trials. In New York, as he writes his memoirs, detailing his task of guarding Nazi prisoners awaiting prosecution, Hilu also shows off his vast repertoire of artwork, most of which deals with his experiences as a Jew, handling high-profile Nazis in prison (his pieces are chiefly sketches overlaid with sprawling exposition). Along the way, he also shares viewpoints on his early life, his family, his career, his various significant interactions in Germany, and his collection of personal philosophies (and recollections) – dubbed “Nathan-ism.”

Interestingly, though Nathan is categorized primarily as an artist (prolific, in fact, with his considerable, nonstop output), his work is described as amateurish and almost childlike; from a critical perspective, his designs don’t exhibit the qualities and techniques that most people in the art world would judge as of a notable caliber or stature. Despite an undeniable individualism and uniqueness, Nathan’s drawings haven’t obtained a legitimacy or exposure that could make him available to larger audiences. Of course, the release of this documentary might help with that process.

As a subject for a film, Nathan and his participation in Nuremberg isn’t unexceptional. However, even with the more fascinating elements of his tale – particularly that of Albert Speer, one of many prisoners Hilu guarded, the Nazi Minister of Armament from 1942-1945, who was essentially the only one who admitted a level of guiltiness and remorse for his role in the Führer Principle (as well as Hermann Göring’s suicide and notes on the treatment of the prisoners, including the food they were provided and the books they were given, in contrast to regular German citizens) – the picture requires plenty of supplemental materials. This is far from just a story about one man. With a museum worker, an art journalist, a U.S. Department of Justice counselor, a rabbi, a research specialist, and others, additional information comes to light about the convicted Nazis, their outcomes, and historical implications – as well as, perhaps most intriguingly, the difficulties in proving Nathan’s actual assignments as an American soldier in the post-WWII era.

Though it employs sensible structuring, standard use of various documentary components (including talking heads, insert shots, and music that prompts reactions), sharp photography, and quick pacing, unfolding like a mystery at one point when the accuracy of Nathan’s biography comes into question, the allure is only as strong as a viewer’s interest in the subject (the major predicament with most documentaries). Still, it’s routinely engaging, especially when Hilu becomes belligerent in his insistence that his visualized recollections are genuine – suggesting, of course, that they may not be – but it’s not the type of project that will pull audiences in regardless of their inherent curiosity in this artist and his life. As an examination into the aging process, the ways in which memories grow distorted, the human desire to be heard and to feel consequential, and the threat of creeping mortality, it’s maybe even more poignant. By the end, Hilu may not have been the most important artist to scrutinize, but Golod nevertheless does a commendable job of making him a cinematic figure. “To some degree, we all need to feel that we matter.”

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10