Final Account

Directed by: Luke Holland

Luke Holland’s “Final Account,” an accounting of those who lived and participated in the German Third Reich, left me unnerved.

It left me unnerved because I felt complicit in some way for the experiences shared by the documentary’s participants. I wasn’t even a glimmer in my parent’s eyes when these events took place, but I think this is a natural reaction to the types of questions and answers that were posed.

Holland’s aim, over his decade-long journey to get a recounting of life in Nazi Germany, was to take it from a first-hand experience. We learn from some who were just school children about being indoctrinated into the belief system and adults who turned a blind eye at the time to the suffering of others, and yet, they took no action.

My persecution complex comes from a very human place – I was not a part of the said activities, nor was I a witness to them. This is a feeling elicited from Holland’s work; the subjects that he interviews, old and frail have such vivid memories and strong convictions, whether right or wrong at the time and most certainly by today’s standards, that he successfully manages to put the audience in their shoes.

Even with that success under his belt, Holland also manages to get the subjects to admit deeply personal feelings on camera, feelings and expressions that would normally be reserved for a courtroom. This doesn’t raise the caliber of “Final Account,” however it puts into perspective just how vulnerable we all are.

There is no shame in sharing these experiences either; Holland doesn’t force them out of his subjects. Instead, the way “Final Account” unfolds, these subjects want to share their experiences, to make it a part of the public record.

In a documentary full of many moments, some so horrifying, I don’t know that I would want to take another look at the evil displayed here, Holland finds a bright spot: a gentleman is interviewed in front of teenagers and early 20-somethings, as if it were a courtroom proceeding. The setting is a bright an airy conference room with nothing but white walls without adornments. I don’t know whether it was the setting or the conversation, which is all subtitled. The moment is full of accusations from both sides, the subject and his memories, and ultimately warnings on one side, and the younger folks who, like me, only have a cursory understanding of what life was like back then and to look at the bigger picture.

“Final Account” is, at its best, a reflection of an ideology, demonstrating the power of the word, which is something this country spent the last four years reflecting on. “Final Account” is not a condemnation of past events, as much as it is a buoy in a foggy harbor, a reminder, and a warning that history can and will inevitably repeat itself.

Holland seeks answers to his questions; even manages to press to the point where it becomes uncomfortable, either from the horrors being recounted, or a life of shame from not being responsible or accountable for one another, and stopping the horrors that afflicted an entire generation.

For all its questions though, “Final Account” manages to ask all the questions it has, but never really has any satisfactory answers. Like any factual accounting, I suppose the recollection is in the eye of the beholder, what matters now is what we do with that information; do we condemn ourselves into repeating history, or do we find a better way?

“Final Account” is in theaters starting today and is Recommended.

This review is written in honor of the film’s director, Luke Holland, who passed away three months after the film’s premiere at Venice in September, 2020.

PG-13, 90 minutes, A Participant and Focus Features Release