13 years have passed since Misha Defonseca, author of ‘Surviving with Wolves’, admitted her Holocaust memoir was not all that it seemed. The documentary ‘Misha and The Wolves‘ re-creates the investigation that uncovered one of the greatest stories of survival during WWII was in fact a farce.
Misha Defonseca, Jane Daniel and Evelyne Haendel. A liar, a self-serving publisher and a true holocaust victim. This is the basis for the film-documentary that breaks down exactly who was involved in the most extraordinary, far-reaching con that took place over the second half of the 20th century.
In the opening scenes the people once closest to Misha begin telling the story of a woman, whose geniality and unbelievable childhood, cause her to become a beloved sensation. The innocent impression the audience gains of Misha (played throughout by Laura Liberatore) at the beginning of the film from her friends, serves to lure the audience into Misha’s story the same way the world was taken in by it. Once the groundwork for the story is laid viewers are shoved in a crime investigation—one that keeps us gripped through every twist and turn as the question “who is the real Misha?” is answered.
The tragic story of Misha who during the Holocaust, aged seven, avoided Nazi capture by living in the woods with a pack of wolves is broken down and retold by multiple people. The way the film presents this story prevents the audience from getting the chance to feel emotionally invested in the story. Haendel is one of several interviewees, who played an instrumental role in uncovering the real reason Misha, a self-proclaimed Jewish child, wasn’t captured and sent to a concentration camp. As a true holocaust survior, Haendel serves to show the paradox between Misha’s story and her own. Our sympathy for Evelyne is elicited through the interweaving of old video clips of Auschwitz (the place her parents were deported to and killed) with footage where we see and hear her struggle to fight back tears as she describes her harrowing visit to the infamous Nazi death camp so she could try and come to terms with the deaths of her mother and father.
Misha is interviewed in what looks like a cosy living room. It is decorated with yellow flowery wallpaper and gaudy furniture adding a false sense of security to her story. Much like Misha did, the camera controls what the audience sees. It is only when holes start to appear in her story that the camera pans out to reveal that the room is actually a set built inside a vast studio—not at all the warm, sweet scented house we imagined it to be part of. The staged setting helps to recreate the overall feeling of her betrayal in a raw and provoking way for the audience. The set is then slowly taken apart from the inside out simultaneously with the unravelling of her tale.
Behind the scenes footage of Misha sees the camera follow her into her dressing room where, unexpectedly, a team of hair and make-up remove a wig once again reminding viewers she isn’t all she appears. Furthermore, drawing focus to the theme of deception running through the documentary and removing any kind of certainty the viewership had away. By the end the audience are left feeling like those who once thought they knew Misha Misha—shocked.
Misha and the wolves is a compelling documentary that does a great job of capturing a broken world, scarred by the horrors of the Second World War. In this context, the film highlights the public’s willingness to believe such a tale, suggesting that although Misha faked her story she was never fully to blame. One thing that viewers are left sure of, is that Evelyne Haendel and other holocaust survivors were the true victims of this long-con.
Misha and the Wolves is an emotionally raw documentary which at its centre focuses on the damage caused by wanting something to be true for personal gain. The genius use of set and camera composition is what makes this documentary feel like it’s happening in real time, keeping the audience gripped every step of the way.
Words by Jasmine Edge
‘Misha and the Wolves’ opens in cinemas nationwide from Friday 3rd September.
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