In the end, the power of Final Account resides in the way it shows how human nature reacts to lies, propaganda and state-sanctioned atrocity. Some people, looking for an excuse to do evil, will jump right in. A very tiny faction will risk all to fight against them.
The spirit of Claude Lanzmann, whose monumental Shoah remains a nonpareil cinematic text on the Holocaust, lingers over and around Final Account, a film assembled by Luke Holland around interviews he conducted beginning in 2008.
The Holocaust is one of the most exhaustively documented events in history, yet it can seemingly never be documented enough. This is not only due to the relentless persistence of antisemites and fascist sympathizers in trying to sow doubt as to its veracity, but because many more seemingly benign parties have managed to distance themselves from fascism’s warning to the West, and the world.
The "important" label can weigh heavily on a documentary, but the description applies to "Final Account," director Luke Holland's decade-long odyssey to capture and preserve the memories of Germans who lived through the Holocaust, acknowledging their complicity to varying degrees. While much has been done to chronicle survivors' stories, this sobering companion belongs on the shelf alongside them.
There are no heroes in Final Account, no one to empathize with. What makes it uniquely worth watching is its cast of octogenarians and nonagenarians who were eyewitnesses and in some cases active participants in the horrors of the concentration camps.
What makes Final Account so intriguing and, yes, so infuriating, is seeing and hearing from so many Germans who are near the end of their days and have somehow managed to make excuses, to rationalize, to distance themselves from the hell that was their homeland in the 1930s and 1940s.
Luke Holland’s stark and revealing documentary is a gift of memory to future generations, though it’s one that some will likely view as an unwelcome reminder of how everyday people can become complicit in incomprehensible evil.
The hateful stance that property is more valuable than certain people’s lives, for example, is still very much with us. And Final Account demonstrates that it takes all levels of cooperation—including the most passive—for tyranny to thrive.
Final Account aims to provide insight into the psychological mechanism that would allow otherwise good people to stand idly by (or actively participate in) the perpetration of mass murder. As such, it’s only partly effective, and frustrating.
Clocking in at a swift 90 minutes, Final Account is like a teenager-friendly approach to “Shoah,” designed as an introduction to issues of responsibility, guilt and the banality of man’s inhumanity to man.