Hard to imagine there was only one recorded military mission attempting to rescue Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. But that’s what is suggested in Blessed is the Match, a biopic on a brave, Hungarian, twenty-something-woman-turned Palestinian, who volunteered for a perilous mission that may have failed tactically but moved mountains bolstering the fortitude of a people on the brink of extinction. Production and story values are quite disproportionate and therefore the film will not see much of a theatrical run, save for a special engagement, Holocaust-themed festival, or museum. Rather, the work is a shoe-in for the small screen and should help pump sales of Senesh’s diary and poetry recited throughout by Senesh’s family, scholars and surviving comrades.
Starting at the end, we see that Hannah Senesh was part of an elite crop of determined Palestinian transplants with Zionist-ambitions consorting with the British military to perform cloak and dagger recognizance and ultimately help spring their fellow Jews from certain death while trapped in concentration camps. You’re immersed in a hanger where pulled parachutes are stored. The background warplane sound effects amplify and dissolve into a grainy image of soldiers parachuting out of a bomber while the night sky is full of large white ovals as the bombers fall in dizzying descent. Jump back almost three decades and the film opens-up at a roaring Budapest circa 1926; quickly, we learn of Hannah’s blueblood origins and how she was expected to embark on great things.
Early on, Senesh experienced anti-Semintism at her school when she was forbidden to run for student office. Such indignity was only a precursor for outside Hungary, Hitler’s sway was gaining traction and the persecution of the Jewish people was spreading. Senesh, who taught herself Hebrew, saw the opportunity to emigrate out of this noise and landed herself a seat at a kibbutz tending to the chickens and cows. The calloused-hand life was not exactly what was intended for the young gal who began dictating poems to her grandmother before she could pick-up a pen. But duty took over intellectual pursuit. Correspondence between Senesh and her mother began to dissipate due to the censors muzzling and the two had to settle with abbreviated ditties through Red Cross telegrams. As the war persisted, the protection of Hungarian Jews couldn’t hold-off the onslaught of fascism and Senesh’s mother was left to either make a mad dash or suffer an unsavory fate. Already, Senesh’s brother skipped out of France once Hitler yelled into a microphone after his soldiers landed in Paris.
All of the trouble heading toward Senesh’s family was the catalyst that inspired a route to take up arms. The film’s title is based on her final poem, written before her capture. Her mission to infiltrate Hungary’s borders and deliver valuable intel to the brigades lying in-wait was prematurely thwarted. And it was a long and agonizing sentence for Senesh to serve out the rest of her waking days in a Gestapo prison. She did, however, manage to pen more poetry and plays.
No doubt the poetry and the historical notes make for a documentary with no shortage of sources. The execution is somewhat dimmed by the overkill of reenactments. The film is pretty slick in using still shots (many snapped by Senesh’s own camera) and somehow recreating that moment with saturated re-shoots where we see a unknown actress portraying Hannah and another, her mother. See them say good-bye at the train station, see Hannah laboring away in a kibbutz, standing in the ocean, or showing the torture sustained while Hannah and her mother were each held captive at the Gestapo prison. These reenactments resemble, in effect, America’s Most Wanted, where the fugitive (barely lit to amplify the sinister shadows and also cover-up the actor’s poor resemblance to the real deal) is blasting-up a bank and taking a hostage for a few miles. It’s all kind of tacky and blasé. And ultimately drops the film’s value several rungs. The film does showcase some riveting archived footage between the lopsided reenactments.
Despite the technical lapses, the film’s message is one that demands attention. There is a courageous path led by a young woman who chose martyrdom to pave a way for her people to live on in dignity. Her body rests amongst her other comrades on top of a famed mountain in Israel. She’s memorialized and decorated a hero to a new nation for which she fought but never enjoyed. The film teaches much through Senesh’s sonorous poetry and diary entries subscribing to the fact that a young girl has much wisdom to offer the world then and now.
Director: Roberta Grossman
Screenwriter: Sophie Sartain
Producers: Marta Kauffman and Lisa Thomas
Genre: Documentary, English and Hungarian-Language; subtitled
Running time: 86 min.
Release date: January 28 NY, February 6 LA