SUNDANCE 2021 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! One day in the mid-1990s, just outside of Boston, Misha Defonseca stood before her synagogue on Yom HaShoah (Day of Remembrance) and told her story. She tells of her upbringing in Belgium as a hidden child. After learning that her parents were shipped to a camp in Germany and feeling utterly rejected by her Catholic foster home, Misha sets off on foot to reconnect with her family… at the age of 7. Fending for herself in the wild, she is slowly adopted by a pack of wolves on her journey. If you think that’s wild, you really don’t know the half of it. Director Sam Hobkinson’s Misha and the Wolves is a hell of a movie with more twists and turns than any purveyor of truth could reasonably abide. Yet, it is all 100% true.
Among the attendees at the Yom HaShoah service was publisher Jane Daniel, who had just started her business. After about a year of convincing, Defonseca finally agrees to write and publish her personal account of survival among the wild animals. Things don’t go as expected, and sales don’t take off. Defonseca becomes uncooperative and vindictive, ultimately suing Daniel for unpaid royalties to the tune of 21 million. With the book taking off in Europe under a French publisher and former publisher Jane Daniel owing money, it seems that the Holocaust survivor had come out on top. That is until Jane Daniel did some digging.
“Fending for herself in the wild, she is slowly adopted by a pack of wolves…”
With the accelerating narrative pace of a crime thriller, Misha and the Wolves begins to show teeth. The set up is there, the mystery plotted out and the wrongs committed, we follow as a Daniel and a band of gumshoes around the globe slowly tear away at Defonseca’s sensational story. We are subjected to discovery after discovery, revelation after revelation. As I watched, I thought, “Wow, this is as addictive as a Netflix series.”
It moves with the narrative elegance and bristling pace of Errol Morris’ best works. Hobkinson understands the power of story in having us, the viewer, relate to the subjects. We react in shock to each deception, twist, and turn while at the same time understanding the multifaceted nature of the despicable actions. This is jaw-tightening, fist-clinching, breath-holding, bravura filmmaking glazed with the patina that it is all true.
Hobkinson has delivered one of the first great documentaries of the year with Misha and the Wolves. He chose the right subject, the right way to tell the story, the most gripping techniques to deliver the narrative with, and treats the subject, not with exploitation, but with a knowing sympathy.
My advice, see Misha and the Wolves as soon as possible but avoid any and all spoilers, trailers, and summations. This is a dish best served cold and, my god, you will be thinking about it for weeks after.
Misha and the Wolves screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…with more twists and turns than any purveyor of truth could reasonably abide. Yet, it is all 100% true."