I’ll be the first to admit that I am a history buff. I’m the type of person who while in a car, will yell out for it to stop so I can go and look at a historical marker that I have spotted on the side of the road. I can’t explain it but I have just always been that way. Even as a child, I would throw my Golden Books out of the way in order to get to my Ned Kelly colouring book.
It is perhaps for that reason, I warmed to new Australian documentary Strangers To The World the way that I did. Featuring prominent Australian actors Rachel Griffiths (Muriel’s Wedding) and Oscar Redding (Van Dieman’s Land), the documentary looks into the lives of Franz Jaegerstatter and Etty Hillesum – two people that stood up to the Nazi regime during World War II and refused to allow their morals to be changed.
With Strangers To The World, I found the subject matter enthralling. Being a fan of Terence Malick’s 2019 film, A Hidden Life Catholic-resister Franz Jaegerstatter has been someone I have been yearning to learn more about for a while now. Watching Strangers To The World did fill in some of the blanks for me. I was able to learn about the fact that Jaegerstatter lived a rebellious life and only turned to religion during the rise of fascism in Europe. But there was something that was unsettling for me throughout the documentary; the very Australian accents during the dramatisations.
Scenes such as Jaegerstatter confronting his Bishop (Neil Pigot – Blue Heelers) about where the Catholic Church should stand on the rise of Nazism was a fascinating watch and well delivered by the two talented actors. At the same time, I just couldn’t unhear the Australian accents, which at times distracted from the power of the scenes.
It was also the same with the dramatisations during the story of Etty Hillesum. Having never heard her story before, I sat glued to the screen wanting to learn more. Theatrical-style dramatisations again, but this time delivered as great monologues from the talented Rachel Griffiths reading from Hillsum’s letters. While this looked great, it could have been so much more natural had Griffiths been asked to adopt a Dutch accent.
If the sole aim of Strangers To The World is to educate and inspire, then it certainly hits it mark. Having watched the documentary, I now feel like I know a lot more about Jaegerstatter and received a great insight to how he was feeling during the last days of his life. Likewise, I now know about the amazing spirit and determination of Etty Hillesum who remained smiling even while she was held prisoner in a concentration camp. So powerful was the delivery of her story, that I have been inspired to try find a way to read her letters and diaries.
However, if the aim of Strangers To The World was to entertain, then I am not sure it worked. As a documentary, it felt to me more the kind of film that would be shown to a high school history class or screened at a museum rather then something that would have people lining up at a cinemas to see. To be succinct, it feels like it was more designed to be a Sunday afternoon documentary on the ABC than a big cinema experience.
Strangers To The World is an inspirational documentary that while may be a little dry for those looking to be thoroughly entertained, will still make you want to learn more about these ‘strangers’ and is well worth a look for those who love and want to learn more about history. But it is especially recommended for those who are serious history buffs.
Strangers To The World is part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival screening from June 30 to July 15.
For more information, visit: http://mdff.org.au