Sundance London 2021 ‘Misha and the Wolves’: Overwrought Doc that Buries the Lead

In 1997 Misha Defonseca published a book recounting her extraordinary childhood experience of pursuing her parents through Nazi occupied Europe. On the verge of starvation she is adopted by a pack of wolves whom she travels with, surviving by eating the spoils of their hunts. She travels from Belgium to the Ukraine, at one stage taking a life to survive. Her story is then adapted into a book with help from friends and neighbours. However she is exposed as having manufactured the story leading to a fall from grace that sees her go from hero to pariah.

There’s a very interesting story to be told here, but this film isn’t interested in it. Misha’s actual story is interesting, as are the motivations for writing her book. One could see the savage journey and adoption by wolves as an allegory of the experience of living in Europe during the holocaust and having actual family members murdered by the Nazis. It’s also interesting to consider the consequences of appropriating holocaust narratives, and the impact this has on public perceptions of the atrocity. This film, however, wants to be Making a Murderer and so focusses instead on the narrative of the book being written and exposed, attempting to present regular twists as if urging viewers to watch just one more episode.

The whole film feels terribly disingenuous and even deceptive. Aside from the flashy style borrowed from exploitative true crime shows which sees awkward recreations of real events by the actual people involved and uncomfortable close ups of people’s faces whilst they are described as greedy or deceptive, the film also features an actor performing Misha, without tipping off the audience that this is not in fact the real Misha. Where have her words come from? Are they from an interview we’re not seeing or are they also pure fantasy?

This is a sensationalised and shallow account of what could be an very interesting subject. Defonesca (or Monique de Wael) is not the only person to produce fictional accounts of their experience of the war and the holocaust. Another of these accounts, The Painted Bird, was adapted into a feature film in 2019 in all earnestness. What is the significance of truth in our accounts of history? How can we scrutinise the stories of survivors sensitively? What is the real cost of all these stories and do they come from a place that may actually be truthful? For answers to these questions, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.

Two Stars


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