‘beate Klarsfeld Story’: Strong Performance by Fawcett, but Holocaust’s Terror Lacking

The courageous anti-Nazi activity of Beate Klarsfeld will be brought before the American public in dramatic, episodic fashion on Sunday, November 23.

“Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story,” which will air from 9-11 p.m. EST on ABC-TV, is a better than average look at the issues of the Holocaust and the pursuit of the Nazi criminals who seek to escape justice.

Farrah Fawcett, perhaps best known for her roles as glamorous women, is marvelous as a thoroughly believable Beate, a German-born Protestant who became committed to bringing Nazi criminals to justice. She displays broad sensitivity, and ages convincingly.

But her co-stars are weak. Academy Award winner Geraldine Page overacts as Itta Halaunbrenner, who with Klarsfeld chained herself to a bench in protest in Bolivia. As Serge, Tom Conti is too smiley, especially in meeting Beate in Paris. But the casting of Hungarians as Germans, French as French and South Americans as Bolivians adds realism.

The movie begins with the innocent 17-year-old Beate waving to her parents as she boards a train in Berlin for Paris in 1960. There she meets and falls in love with Serge Klarsfeld, a law student who makes her aware of the Holocaust. The couple of course eventually become partners in life and in hunting Nazis.

A SKETCHY PORTRAYAL

Beate’s sudden conversion to hatred of Nazis, including the indifference shown by her family — is sketchily portrayed. More effectively staged is Beate’s first appearance on the world scene, when she focuses attention on Nazi leaders.

The movie shows her shouting, “Nazi, resign,” at German Chancellor Kurt Kiesinger from the gallery of the German legislature. She later slaps him.

Also well played is the attempt to kidnap a mass killer in Cologne, after which the Klarsfelds turn their attention to Klaus Barbie, who today awaits his trial for war crimes in Lyon, France.

The movie’s first half features rapid, staccato images, but then the portrayal of the search for Barbie slows to a tedious and obscure halt at times. Producer William Kayden said it was difficult to condense 20 years of the Klarsfelds’ efforts into a continuous, comprehensive account. Also missing is Beate exposing Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi past at a street meeting in Vienna.

LACKS TERROR-FILLED IMPACT

While essentially accurate, “The Beate Klarsfeld Story” lacks the terror-filled impact a Holocaust film ought to have, and that many French, Russian and Dutch films do show. This partly is due to the constant hugging and kissing by Beate and Serge, which may provide necessary relief for the public, but it is a disturbing juxtaposition with newsreel shots from the extermination camps.

The drama was photographed on location in Paris and southern France, with Nice doubling for La Paz, Bolivia, where Barbie was hiding. The UN building in Paris was to be used as the setting of the German legislature, but 10 days before the scene was scheduled, the German Ambassador protested, contending that the scene would unflatteringly portray a German official. The scene was filmed in a theatre.

“The Beate Klarsfeld Story” was born in February 1983, when producer Kayden saw Beate Klarsfeld interviewed about her campaign to extradite Barbie.

He set off on his own search. “It took me a full year to find Serge and Beate Klarsfeld,” he recalled. “We finally met in New York in 1984 and I acquired the rights to the life story.” The Klarsfelds served as consultants.

He found a director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who brought great commitment to the project. “(E)ven in the face of wars, aviation, television and space travel,” the director said, “the 20th century will be marked throughout history by the Holocaust.

“The quest of Serge Klarsfeld and Beate, whose parents through indifference shared the guilt, aims to right as much of the wrong during the Holocaust as is possible, by exposing and bring to justice Nazi war criminals.”

Lindsay-Hogg sees the couple as “basically ordinary … except that they are fueled by their commitment and that they act in an extraordinary way.”

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