A re-enactment scene from Roberta Grossman's documentary "Blessed Is The Match: The Life And Death Of Hannah Senesh", which opened today in Los Angeles and Encino, California.  (Photo: Balcony Releasing)

THE POPCORN REEL FILM REVIEW/"Blessed Is The Match: The Life And Death Of Hannah Senesh"

A Daughter's Legacy of Courage and Heroism for a Mother to Follow

By Omar P.L. Moore/February 6, 2009     

Recently on the big screen there have been such feature films based on true events as "Valkyrie" and "Defiance" showing the boldness and strength to fight back against fascism from within or without its quarters, but the new documentary "Blessed Is The Match: The Life And Death Of Hannah Senesh" is a quintessential mother and daughter love story of perseverance, heroism and bravery during World War Two.  Narrated in the voice of Catherine Senesh (voiced by Joan Allen, who also narrated "The Rape Of Europa"), "Blessed" chronicles the remarkable true story of Catherine's daughter Hannah, a Hungarian Jewish woman who at the tender age of 22 parachuted as a volunteer into Nazi Europe to rescue endangered Jewish citizens from certain death.  Miss Senesh was an idealist and iconoclast with a sharp literal and philosophical eye on the world around her.  Roberta Grossman's documentary follows the ascendancy of Hannah Senesh from her charmed middle-class roots in Budapest, where at age seven she wrote the first of many poems, the initial one ("Oh You Lovely Children") to help her deal with the untimely death of her father, to becoming a Zionist and then a Palestinian national, to the crucial moment where she decides to parachute with the British Army into the lions den of death in Nazi Europe to save Jewish lives in 1944.  Less than six years later, Hannah Senesh wouldn't be able to save herself.

"Blessed", which opened today exclusively in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 and in Encino, California at the Laemmle Town Hall 5, is a swift but indelible film complete with live re-enactments by actors including Meri Roth as Hannah Senesh and Marcela Nohýnková as Catherine Senesh.  There is also the voice-over interplay of Ms. Allen and Alona Tal (as Hannah Senesh), which serves as a gentle but touching echo, an interaction which dominates but doesn't overwhelm the documentary, which supplies other narrations of real-life participants.  Sophie Sartain wrote the overlay script for Ms. Grossman's documentary and co-produces "Blessed" with her.  Sometimes "Blessed" is too ambitious as it also mixes amazing archival war-reel footage with the re-enactments, not to mention compelling interviews with those who lived through and survived the evils that the war brought with it.  There's a lot going on in the film, yet all of it indispensable to telling a largely unknown and fascinating story about an accomplished poet, author, photographer, philosopher and freedom fighter who faced her persecutors in Joan Of Arc style, following her 1944 parachute drop during the only Jewish rescue mission that was permitted.

Thanks to Ms. Grossman and in particular Ms. Allen and Ms. Tal, we learn not only of Hannah Senesh's bravery, we get a complete sense of her being both ahead of her time and somewhat isolated from her peers in her unquenchable desire for justice and righteousness.  "There are times," said Miss Senesh at just age 22, "that one is committed to do something even if the price is one's life."  "Blessed Is The Match", also the title of one of Miss Senesh's poems, captures the surrounding horrors of the Holocaust against the larger Jewish population through historians and archivists of the period.  Some of their comments are chilling to the bone.  Above all though, "Blessed" is an intimate story of a mother and daughter's abiding love and how a daughter's legacy fuels a mother's will.  "There are two loves," a survivor of the prison camps recalls Miss Senesh saying, "'one is for my country, my people, and the second is for my mother.'"  Ms. Grossman's film is a testament to that love and there are several episodes that exhibit the warm connection Catherine and Hannah shared, mainly in letters written when the younger Senesh was doing what duty called upon her to do.

"Blessed Is The Match" is a conventional documentary that tells a most unconventional story about a true renaissance woman, one that is also triumphant, inspirational and moving.

"Blessed Is The Match: The Life And Death Of Hannah Senesh" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America.  The film is in English, Hebrew and Hungarian languages with English language subtitles.  The film's duration is one hour and 26 minutes, which goes by very quickly.

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