In Hebrew, Nakam means revenge, and from 1939-1945, the Jewish people had ample justification for resorting to the mindset. But even in the face of the world’s greatest historical atrocity, vengeance can still excavate two graves, and a young Ukrainian violin player is the victim in Andreas Kessler’s 33 minute short.
Oscar qualifying NAKAM, which is based on a true story, actually waltzes us into the time period. A violin chord of classical music sedates the viewer in hopes that some Jewish family has found an oasis in the middle of the Nazi terror. Mitka (Anton Krymskiy) wields the wand, and masterfully delivering the notes, we feel the human heart can conquer anything.
Sharing glances and synergy with his accompaniment on the piano, the power of more than one scores another win for the human race. Mitka and Yegor (Yevgeni Sitokhin) can’t be brought down by the meager interior of the opening setting either. A home/restaurant, Leonard Caspari’s cinematography seems to put us safely alongside some locale on the German occupied frontier, and despite their haggard wear and dirtied faces, the melody and joy of the players helps suspend disbelief.
Of course, the Nazi influence slowly creeps in. In low lighting that implies that darkness actually prevails, the relaxing enlisted men and Nazi flag preempt a curtain that must come completely crashing down. Looking like he traveled a time portal directly from a Nazi staff meeting, SS Officer Seeger (Peter Miklusz) ushers in the crescendo. The scary part is the non-invasive manner in which Miklusz switches the movie’s gears.
Seeger politely enters, enthusiastically greets the dog and actually defers as a guest in this Jewish residency. He also presents as an educated man of culture who deeply appreciates the artistic talents of his hosts.
So chilling, and the players definitely get the underlying message. First, Sitokhin does a balancing act for his character. Yegor must convey respect, while being careful not to emote fear, because doing so would probably be worse.
On the other hand, Mitka is a boy and the trepidation is appropriately evident on Krymskiy’s face and easily readable in his eyes. Conversely, youth is impetuous, and not old enough to hold back, the fear is overridden.
The boy boldly speaks up, and despite immediately regretting the rebelliousness, a baseline is established. Mitka’s passion means action is a possibility, and while Seeger knows the boy has tipped his hand, the continued restraint is a matter of playing the long game. In other words, the SS officer is simply awaiting a bigger payoff.
The Nazi’s instinct is correct, and we see Mitka meet Artem (Rostyslav Bome). His partisan contact, the actors piercing eyes and impassioned delivery shows us a man who has been stripped of his humanity.
So when Mitka questions how fighting back could affect their own brethren, it’s an easy calculation. “Those who don’t fight them, and serve food and drinks instead, already decided to die,” Artem assures.
The leader then tries to remove any doubt by reminding Mitka of their murdered families. The boy is persuaded, but despite words that signal compliance, Krymskiy reveals the hint that his young heart still beats.
Even so, in the village we’re soon reminded in stark human terms why Artem has lost his soul, and not just in terms of Nazi body counts. In an exterior that seems to have forgotten that World War II ended, Seeger’s omnipotent presence puts all human activity in the background, and the murmured speech amongst the incidental footsteps, clanking tools and chirping critters sends a chilling message. The people are already ghosts, and their physical bodies are just waiting for the transition.
So all at the Nazi’s whim, Mitka obviously teeters alongside Artem’s descent. But there’s also an angel on his shoulder. Refusing to let the Nazi’s steal his soul, Yegor has his art. A formidable armor, Sitokhin’s out of body performance transports his character too, and as a result, the conflict gets voice on Mitka’s face.
One that Krymskiy wears beyond his years and makes the actual unraveling of events secondary. So in the tortured demeanor of Mitka, each of us is forced to ask how far would we go to meet our ends – whether it’s justice, revenge or survival.