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With: Rupert Everett (narrator), Klaus Müller, Karl Gorath, Pierre Seel, Heinz F., Annette Eick, Albrecht Becker, Gad Beck, Heinz Dörmer
Written by: Sharon Wood
Directed by: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 81
Date: 01/22/2000

Paragraph 175 (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Tears and Exhaustion

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Holocaust has been well documented in the last 15 years, and people for the first time are allowed to learn about its various chapters, rather than the gruesome whole. Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1985) interviewed survivors all across the board without news clips, narration or sentiment. In its full-color finale, Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993) gathered the Jews who were saved by a savvy German businessman. James Moll's The Last Days focused on a group of Hungarian Jews who survived Auschwitz (including Congressman Tom Lantos). And Errol Morris' brilliant Mr. Death showed us a Boston man's misguided attempt to "prove" that the Holocaust did not happen.

Now San Francisco filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the men behind such excellent documents as The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989), and The Celluloid Closet (1995), give us the homosexual chapter of the story. Specifically, Paragraph 175, named after the section of Nazi law that outlawed homosexual practices.

The film, narrated by Rupert Everett, gathers seven of the handful of living gay and lesbian survivors of the death camps and puts them in front of the camera to tell their stories. Some of these stories are heartbreaking, such as the tale of the "Singing Forest" whose howling sound came from tortured prisoners, or of the gay boy who dressed as a Hitler youth to try and break his friend out of prison. Painful moments arise when interviewees break down in tears or scream in fury and weariness at the camera.

I would argue that Paragraph 175 is an important document that deserves to be seen by many people. I would not hesitate to show it in classrooms. Yet, as a purely artistic achievement, I found the film lacking.

How do I say this without sounding callous? Paragraph 175 didn't really say anything that I hadn't heard before. I agree that gay and lesbian survivors have a right to tell their version of the story, but their story isn't all that different from other parties who were persecuted. All the Holocaust stories are equally horrible. I got the impression that many of the interviewees in Paragraph 175 had grown tired of telling their stories again and again. It's almost as if this film project came too little, too late. When I saw The Last Days a little over a year ago, I was moved to tears by the immediacy of some of the stories. Paragraph 175 left me feeling tired.

A mixed review to be sure. But overall, I believe that the world is a better place with Epstein and Friedman having made this film.

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