»If you’re looking for hope, you’re scraping at the bottom of the barrel«, said Marc Ribot, one of the three musicians who set the tone in REDEMPTION BLUES.
What was I after this multi-year voyage through the jagged landscape 75 years after the Shoah? Was I actually looking for hope? To be redeemed from the burden that looks over humankind ever since, and which has not dissipated by now?
This film takes place at a transitional moment when the witness generations finally bids farewell to its descendants. A group of individuals, whose life was more or less distinguishably shaped by the experiences in their long gone youth, allow themselves to be seduced by one of their sons to partake in a role-play. They play themselves at the juncture of perpetual, repetitive testimony and a bogus afterlife made possible by technical high jinks like holography.
However, the film eschews the old stories with one exception, but rather keeps asking questions until we run into treasures beyond the familiar, which might be considered links in the chain of our own life, and in the life of coming generations.
Joe Lender is the one exception, a pious man from Hungary who was able to observe his fellow deportees as they made their way into the gas. He needs to tell this story in the film, because it is emblematic for all other crimes committed then, and because he never had a chance to tell it in front of a camera. (»Spielberg forgot about me.«)
The story begins with my mother, who had not spoken much about her wartime experiences before I turned 50. Now it is too late to ask her what she wanted to pass along. And before, I actually didn’t want to know too much.
From Vienna we travel to New York, where many could easily shed their post-war identities, and where I, having shed my religious upbringing, found a chance to give new life to my Jewish existence when I encountered a new kind of radical music.
In New York we encounter Walter Feiden, originally from Vienna, who can escape from the war’s grip with his charm and insistent warnings about the coming end of the world. And Stella Levi, the world traveler from the Island of Rhodes, who showed her fellow inmates at Auschwitz—possibly even my mother—that there were Jews who didn’t speak Yiddish.
The four of us, along with the support of several other experienced protagonists, move through the film and come across belated mourning, forgetting but not forgiving, misguided enmity and a chance for a continuous history that doesn’t just extend from one massacre to another.
Finally, my mother gets the garden that she always wished for; Walter hectors young Viennese at the famous Giant Ferris Wheel and still finds himself in his element at the vineyard wine gardens. And Stella invited us to her table, where she transforms old songs of suffering with dishes from her home town into a new ritual.
All this is embedded into a stream of music that runs from nostalgia and religious sources into an ocean of free, improvisational creation. At the end, Marc Ribot’s blues-guitar responds to the resurrection chorus of Gustav Mahler.