Appellate Judge James A. Stewart sees a ray of light.
"There's nothing on Earth so evil that a ray of light can't seep through."—Hannah Senesh
Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh tells the story of one of the participants in a parachute mission into Hungary to rescue Jewish people during World War II. The 22-year-old Hungarian Jewish woman, who volunteered when military recruiters approached her in Palestine, was a heroine of Israel in its early years. Like Anne Frank, Senesh lived on in history because of her diaries and also her poetry, including "Blessed is the Match," a short poem she wrote before the mission.
Blessed is the Match uses the writings of Hannah and her mother Catherine (voiced by Joan Allen) to form the framework of its biography. The first half hour or so tells the story of Hannah's life, and the remainder of the 85-minute documentary focuses on her mission and her capture by the Nazis. Through Hannah's story, Blessed is the Match also shows the rise in anti-Jewish sentiment the Nazis fueled across Europe and life in the growing Jewish community in Palestine. The writings are supplemented by reenactments, period photos and film, along with interviews with historians and Hannah's contemporaries.
While that's a lot to cover in 86 minutes, filmmaker Roberta Grossman (500 Nations) makes it work, filling in enough of the background to illustrate the world in which Hannah lived. She doesn't go into great detail about the thoughts of Hannah and others in Palestine as the war worsened in Europe and they were cut off from news of their families, but viewers will still feel their anguish. It helps that Joan Allen reads Catherine's memoirs with enough honest emotion that, for a while at least, I'd guessed that it was real tape of Catherine Senesh's voice I was listening to.
The picture quality, as you'd expect, varies widely. The reenactments use muted colors to suggest fading, but are obviously new. Extras include extended interviews, a photo gallery of production stills, a trailer, and Roberta Grossman's text bio.
The writings of Hannah Senesh are those of an intelligent and sensitive young woman, brought into maturity early by the frightening events taking place around her but still optimistic, even willing to die to spread that optimism. The strongest image I took from the movie was that of Hannah signaling the other inmates of the prison where she was held with news of the war she'd gleaned while in interrogations. That small triumph and her concern for others, even as her fate was being sealed, hints at a spirit that couldn't be subdued.
From the beginning, viewers will know Hannah's fate; footage of her funeral is seen in the first few minutes. However, Grossman's movie is hopeful, making Hannah an example for others.
Like many a movie taken from the printed page, Blessed is the Match could pique your interest in the diaries of Hannah Senesh, but it stands on its own well. For students, it could serve as a quiet introduction to the events leading up to World War II and formation of the nation of Israel.
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