Killing Kasztner is a case when a film’s basic material may be too intractable and thorny to make a satisfying feature-length documentary. The subject is Rezso (a.k.a. Rudolf) Kasztner, a Hungarian Jewish lawyer who at the beginning of the Nazi occupation of Budapest managed to arrange negotiations with Adolf Eichmann—saving nearly 1,700 Jews by paying by the head. This was either heroism or an unspeakable act of collaboration—Kasztner’s detractors suggest that he failed to warn the Jews he left behind—and director Gaylen Ross lays out the matter’s lasting political implications in Israel, where Kasztner settled after the war and where his name is still regarded mostly with suspicion. He was assassinated in 1957 by a right-wing extremist group.
Delving into everything from Israeli government documents to Kasztner’s representation in Holocaust museums, Killing Kasztner is pitched at wildly varied levels of detail, and it somehow plays as simultaneously thorough and diffuse. It’s clear Ross’s sympathies lie with Kasztner’s daughter and her children, who have been forced into defending a man the film argues was essentially the Jewish Schindler. Ross’s biggest coup is to arrange a meeting between Kasztner’s family and his convicted assassin, who implies from his first scene that he won’t be a completely reliable witness. The alternation of sentiment and dry testimony results in a frustrating and scattered film, but it’s hard to imagine how Killing Kasztner could have been anything else.