On 9/11, filmmaker Linda G. Mills’ son was in public school in lower Manhattan when he witnessed the destruction of the World Trade Center. Five years later, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Mills decided to link her son’s life-threatening experience with her Jewish mother’s forced exile from Vienna in 1939. Traveling with her now 10-year-old son and her rather opinionated mother, Mills arrives in Vienna to explore her family’s history and the fate of Austria’s Jews during the Holocaust.
This documentary works best when it focuses on historical subject matter, particularly in detailing how the rarely-told story of how the Nazis forced the Jewish community leaders into coordinating the imprisonment and deportation of the Vienna Jewish population. Mills’ mother, who initially comes across as bitter and crotchety, slowly blossoms into a warm raconteur when describing her Viennese childhood. Her interactions with contemporary Austrians, especially the sincere family currently occupying her childhood home, are genuinely touching.
As a personal history of how the Holocaust reshaped one family’s existence, the film works fine. Unfortunately, Mills ruins the production by allowing her rambunctious son to run amok whenever the camera is focused on him. Despite press materials that insist he is “comically restless” and “irreverent,” he comes across like an obnoxious brat – particularly when he decides throw out some “Sieg Hiel” gestures in the middle of a sedate Austrian cultural site. Fortunately, the fast-forward button helps to diminish the damage of his puerile antics.