Three Minutes: A Lengthening review – fragments of a Jewish town destroyed by war

The forensic analysis of home-movie footage shot in a small community in 1938 Poland is the subject of Bianca Stigter’s arresting documentary

Perhaps “a deepening” is closer to the mark. This arresting film is about a vivid process of reconstruction, or recontextualisation, like finding a fragment of an Etruscan pot in the soil and imagining what the whole pot looked like, what the society that produced it looked like, and what the violence that destroyed it looked like.

It is based on the book Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film by the American memoirist and author Glenn Kurtz. In 2009, he had chanced upon a home movie shot by his grandfather David, who had come as a child from Poland to the US and made a prosperous life for himself there. The film recorded the family’s European vacation in 1938 and included a remarkable three-minute segment shot in his home town of Nasielsk in eastern Poland, the first time that little place had ever been recorded on film. The movie vividly captures the Jewish inhabitants’ innocent bustling happiness at that moment, just months before they were deported to the ghettoes by the invading Nazis and from there to be murdered in Treblinka.

As Kurtz’s camera panned across the town square, the faces of grinning excited children surge into the forefront, with warier, curious adults in the background. This film recounts the historical process of digitally restoring the film, deciphering shop signs, identifying buildings, and then putting it up online and asking for survivors to come forward. Grippingly, one did: Moszek Tuchendler, who escaped Poland and anglicised his name to Maurice Chandler, instantly saw himself in one beaming, plump-cheeked boy and we hear his audio testimony.

Director Bianca Stigter has taken a kind of procedural decision not to show any modern faces or activity on screen, nothing other than the flickering film itself, with moments and freeze-frame images shown over and over; a decision which in some ways is the converse of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, which only showed the present-day witnesses. (However, over the closing credits we see the older Maurice Chandler – and yes, he is unmistakable.) This is a gripping historical investigation.

• Three Minutes: A Lengthening is released on 2 December in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘A small victory against erasure’: the three minutes that bring an exterminated Jewish past to life
A new documentary extends 200 seconds of home-movie footage shot in Poland in 1938 into a forensic examination of a community obliterated by the Nazis

Jonathan Freedland

24, Nov, 2022 @4:00 PM

Article image
Where Is Anne Frank? review – Holocaust diary imaginatively rebooted for the YA generation
Waltz With Bashir director Ari Folman turns Frank’s imaginary friend Kitty into a ghost on the run in near-future Amsterdam

Peter Bradshaw

09, Jul, 2021 @5:09 PM

Article image
#AnneFrank. Parallel Stories review – Helen Mirren hosts a heartfelt tribute
This moving, valuable documentary marking the 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation draws on the testimony of many Holocaust survivors

Peter Bradshaw

23, Jan, 2020 @3:00 PM

Article image
Never Gonna Snow Again review – rich brew of strangeness in unsettling suburbia
A mysterious masseur visits a dysfunctional gated community in this absorbing Polish fairytale

Peter Bradshaw

12, Oct, 2021 @3:09 PM

Article image
EO review – an innocent donkey leads the way in surreal Bresson-inspired ride
Life is seen through the eyes of a put-upon beast of burden in this beautifully photographed homage to Au Hasard Balthazar by the veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski

Peter Bradshaw

01, Feb, 2023 @4:24 PM

Article image
Notre Dame on Fire review – high adventure ripped straight from the headlines
Veteran director Jean-Jacques Annaud rips a swashbuckling escapade from news footage of the catastrophic fire at the Paris cathedral

Peter Bradshaw

20, Jul, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
Natural Light review – reprisals and revenge in chilling examination of the toll of war
Documentary director Dénes Nagy explores how conflict erodes loyalty, morality and human consciousness in his award-winning first feature

Peter Bradshaw

09, Nov, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Il Buco review – a wordless search for meaning at the bottom of an Italian abyss
With no dialogue, Michelangelo Frammartino portrays a daring Calabrian cave dive as a moving meditation on the passage of time

Peter Bradshaw

07, Jun, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
‘It became crystal clear they were lying’: the man who made Germans admit complicity in the Holocaust
With Final Account, the late director Luke Holland set out to obtain testimonies from those who participated in the Nazi atrocities – before their voices were lost. The result is a powerful mix of shame, denial and ghastly pride

Dorian Lynskey

02, Dec, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
Nice ass: Jerzy Skolimowski on his donkey film that wowed Cannes
The veteran Polish film-maker’s latest movie stars a donkey – and is up for an Oscar. He talks about how he became a donkey whisperer to get the best performance, his career as a painter and playing a villain in The Avengers

Andrew Pulver

08, Dec, 2022 @4:11 PM