Katja Esson’s documentary is centered on a gathering of 27 poets who share the common bond of surviving some of the most horrifying political atrocities of the 20th century. Each poet offers a distinctive view of the terror that destroyed his or her respective homeland.
For example, Holocaust survivor Lillian Boraks-Nemetz returns to her native Poland and recalls the people and places in her harrowing escape from the Warsaw Ghetto, while Hiroshima bombing survivor Yasuhiko Shigemoto wanders through the modern city in search of reminders of the 1945 atomic bombing. A few of the poets physically escaped the full-brunt of their national tragedies while they were small children, but they came of age in an emotionally challenging exile that frayed their family structure and left them feeling like permanent strangers in their adopted surroundings.
Despite the geographical differences of their backgrounds, each poet brings forth a cogent observation of the worst of human nature while persevering with an artistic strength that celebrates the indefatigable spirit of survival.
The film’s compact 40-minute running time prevents a full appreciation of each poet’s personal history and writing, and it is a shame that very little screen time is afforded to Vietnamese poet Nguyen Chi Thien, whose work received international acclaim and won the Rotterdam International Poetry Prize while he was imprisoned by Hanoi’s Communist government. But poetry lovers will appreciate this invigorating celebration of life over evil.