Saturday, February 10, 2007

Paragraph 175 (2000)

A short (81 minutes) and somber documentary by the directors of The Celluloid Closet and The Times of Harvey Milk, Paragraph 175 details the internment and treatment of homosexuals during the rise and rule of the Nazi party in Germany.

Was it my imagination, the editing, or the participants that made me feel as though the participants had to break through emotional and psychological walls of reluctance and diffidence in order to relate their experiences? The film suggests that unlike other Holocaust survivors, gay men have not been an encouraged to tell their stories, have been met with rejection when they tried. Given the fact that Paragraph 175 was not rescinded in Germany until decades after the war, many of the homosexuals who were imprisoned were still looked at as criminals rather than victims.

The participants themselves range from the angry to the melancholy to the shell shocked, and it is surprising (at least to me) how many times we can hear stories of lives torn apart by war and yet not feel them to be rote or repetitive. There is always a cadence, a detail of memory, that personalizes the story and makes it seems very real, and a good part of the film's emotional impact comes from hearing the survivor's and experiencing their stories not as a unique part of history but as a part that was experienced emotionally as anyone would who lost a loved one.

One participants relates of spending a night with a lover only to have the Gestapo arrest his compatriot (but not him) the next morning. "It had a different value then," he says softly, "...a night of love."

Perhaps, though, a night of love always has the same value. It is we who feel (or fail to feel) that value differently depending upon our circumstances.

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