Ellen Bruno's Sky Burial

From: Bernard Roddy (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Mar 24 2007 - 11:18:43 PDT

Ellen Bruno’s Sky Burial, which screened at Facets last night with two other shorts, Sacrifice and Leper, closes with shots of three monks cutting up cadavers for the giant vultures that are crowding around. As we examine the bloody scene we seem to be invited to look for features of human bodies – faces, hands, feet. Such a desire is gratified the moment one monk lifts a body from which flesh is being carved and two stiff legs rise and are dropped. As it turns out, it is rather difficult to make out heads or other body parts, the carving being too far along by the time of shooting. But that moment reminded me of the bodies at Auschwitz, and of another film, Verdict on Auschwitz (2005), by two Germans, Rolf Bickel and Dietrich Wagner, which was screened at Facets last month. Holocaust trial films generally seem to address a Jewish audience, and this one fit the model. It’s about trials that took place after the first and most famous ones held shortly after the war in
 Jerusalem. The trials at issue in this film were held in Frankfurt between 1963 and 1965, and their value for me lies less in exposing the atrocities than in examining how we put the most vilified on trial, what we do to cope with incredible and shocking conduct. After Bruno’s recontextualized stiff legs, and thinking back on the archival footage of Eichmann stating in all sincerity that he was not the brute described by survivors, it occurred to me why I am ambivalent about the Roy Andersson film Freya reviewed. Going only on the linked still and her review, it feels like the issues that the Holocaust raises are not being taken seriously. What are those issues? Consider the opportunity held out by Verdict on Auschwitz of taking Eichmann seriously. What would that mean today? Would it bear on the current practice of capital punishment in the United States? There’s this picture we have of a mass execution – the gassed nudes in an airless, barren room. And another
 of the ruthless brute in charge of a death camp – a Nazi, a racist, someone beyond comprehension. What does the prevalence of these pictures do for us? What other pictures are there? Sky Burial gives us a different picture of the “slaughter.” A title in Bruno’s film identifies it as an act of generosity. What would it mean to do something like that for the typical execution, not the spectacular one? I am reminded of a film on capital punishment that I saw at Chicago Filmmakers, last summer it seems. I was impressed with the audio recordings of last statements. Here you got a glimmer of an intelligence that is otherwise virtually impossible to discern in a film.

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