Three Minutes: A Lengthening (2021) TIFF 2021

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Time is an illusion.

Albert Einstein.

It was one day in 1938. David Kurtz began shooting everyday scenes with his camera in the town of Nasielsk in Poland. Just a memory to keep from a long-awaited vacation and a trivial reminiscence of his hometown is what Kurtz imagined. Impossible to envision that those minutes of film would be immortalized by that thing that Einstein defined as an illusion. It was time that was responsible for those celluloid rolls becoming the only testament of the Nasielsk inhabitants after the Holocaust. Three Minutes: A Lengthening (2021) by Bianca Stigter combines the narration with a masterful editing to deliver a film of 1 hour and 9 minutes using only David Kurtz’s original recording as a visual resource, from which only three minutes could be rescued.

Kurtz’s grandson Glenn was the spark that lit the fire. After finding the recording, he proceeded to donate it to the Holocaust Museum in the United States. Arduous reconstruction work allowed the film to be restored to the best possible condition. During this process Glenn Kurtz also wrote a book titled Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World. With those three minutes of film that could be rescued from the original recording Glenn began an odyssey to try to identify possible survivors or relatives of those who appear in it. In the process he also draws closer to his roots and his family’s past.

Three minutes a lifetime

Director Bianca Stigter becomes something of a forensic specialist. She first let those three minutes run and then go back and dissect every microsecond in search for clues and details that allow us to understand what happened on that summer day in 1938. The nameless faces begin to turn into characters and their coming and going begins to be structured in a narrative provided with coherence. As travelers in time, we navigate through past lives that seem to last forever while those three minutes are repeated incessantly.

Helena Bonham’s narration brings cohesion to the narrative structure and transforms the past into a perpetual present. It makes us evoke the short film Night and Fog (1956) by Alain Resnais without the horror and hell of the concentration camps, but with the same sense of despair at the imminent tragedy that is anticipated. Three Minutes: A Lengthening (2021) does not intend to lean back on tragedy to achieve empathy, the affinity is achieved from the pure desire to scrutinize the past to better understand the present. Here the style and the substance are combined in a masterly way. From the technique an ingenious and audacious work is born that is nourished by a very intimate background but that appeals to the generality due to the subject it addresses.

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