It may be glib to call this the funniest Holocaust-themed doc yet made, but it’s the truth. New York Times writer Andrew Jacobs makes his warmly entertaining directorial debut, inspired by a series of articles he filed on summers in the Catskills. For the past quarter century, a group of Holocaust survivors has headed upstate annually for rowdy poker games, kvetching and telling corny jokes. But the richest punch line is also the most melancholic: Celebrating the fact that they’re still alive is their ultimate revenge on Hitler. Now the posse faces another tyrant—Death—as they reach their autumn years; the underlying drama here is that this might be the last time this community will exist.
Since the film is built mostly on caught moments, Jacobs couldn’t have asked for a stronger point guard: Vérité pioneer Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens) serves as his lead cinematographer. Some of the observations are priceless, like the man quietly boasting that Dr. Mengele liked him, and the film doesn’t shy away from kick-in-the-gut moments like watching two men react to a sick woman screaming in the distance. But what’s most beautiful of all is that this document ensures that these people will indeed live on forever. Take that, Nazis!