Journey to Justice Review

The story of Journey to Justice is the story of Howard Triest. And it’s a really quite remarkable one. Born Hans Heinz Triest in Germany, he left the country for the US in 1939, aged only 16, and joined the army. Leaving behind his parents and grandparents, they all perished Auschwitz, though he would return to his country near the end of the war as a US soldier. In the aftermath he served as an interpreter throughout the Nuremberg trials and would make a self-produced document of post-war Munich (Munich – Capital of Bavaria, 1947, also featured on this disc). Journey to Justice recounts these events through Triest’s own words as he revisits, at the age of 83, the sites of his experiences in Germany, from childhood through to wartime and Nuremberg, accompanied by his sons Brent and Glen, who also serve as executive producers.

This presence behind the camera, and even more so Brent’s duties as narrator, emphasise just how much Journey to Justice is a family portrait. Glen works as a stills photographer and his images are continually edited into the flow, whilst Howard’s sister Margot, who survived the Holocaust, contributes interviews and therefore her own experiences. Indeed, she’s the only other interviewee other than Howard himself. Yet the dead are as much a presence as the living and the sense that World War II brought about the end of the Triest family’s German history is heavily felt. As Howard mentions his father’s service in the German army or visits his childhood home or the remnants of the family-owned factory in the company of his sons, it’s impossible not to make the connections through the generations and consider ‘what if…?’

Not that Journey to Justice revels in such concerns. As the title and continual use of the words “retribution” and “redemption” suggests, this is a film about Triest gaining closure as well as connecting with his children. It’s the personal nature – for all the Triests involved – that makes the strongest impression. The fact that they were clearly making this film for each other more so than anything else creates an intimate atmosphere that’s easy to get drawn into. Indeed, Brent as interviewer allows for a closeness that would be difficult to achieve otherwise. He ensures that the key questions are never shied away from and, by the same token, never taken too far. Howard isn’t being milked for the film’s emotional content, as it were, merely giving genuine and heartfelt responses as you would expect from a father to a son.

The other result of this explicitly personal nature is that Journey to Justice is far closer to the films born out of Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (such as 1998’s Oscar-winning The Last Days) than it is to such key Holocaust documentary works as Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah or Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog. Furthermore, as cinema it’s similarly close to The Last Days and the like. Director-editor Steve Palackdharry effectively leaves things to the family in terms of content, so it’s the style and approach on which he stamps his mark. Unfortunately this means a very TV-friendly, even Academy-friendly, execution replete with lachrymose score that’s laid on so heavily it unwisely proclaims the emotions when this isn’t really necessary. Similarly the use of Marc Cohn’s The Things We’ve Handed Down over the end credits only serves to reiterate, in less than subtle fashion, what the Triests have ably demonstrated over the preceding 100 minutes. It’s an undoubted distraction and, once you’ve become of it, detrimental to the film as a whole, giving a certain sheen to material that would be far better experienced raw. That said, it’s never enough to lose focus of Journey to Justice’s centre, namely Howard Triest himself, and as such the film retains much of its power. It’s the story that leaves the impression, not the storytelling.

The Disc

Made in 2006, Journey to Justice looks and sounds just as you’d expect from a recent production and as such there’s little to note. Both image and soundtrack are as crisp and clear as they would have appeared on initial prints and both come in their original formats, namely at a ratio of 1.78:1 (anamorphically enhanced) and Dolby Stereo. This being a German release of a US production (one unreleased to date in the UK) we find only German subtitles as optional accompaniment. The disc is coded Region 0 as per all Edition Filmmuseum DVDs, of which this number 42.

Accompanying the film we find the complete version of Howard Triest’s 1947 documentary (co-directed with George Greger), Munich – Capital of Bavaria, in its original silent form without musical accompaniment, and a 14-minute interview with Triest held at the 2006 Munich Film Festival. The former is, of course, a fascinating document though its amateur status cannot be denied. It also provides the bulk of the discussion in the latter, a welcome addition as it’s barely mentioned in Journey to Justice though snippets appear alongside the various newsreels throughout. Both extras come in a ratio of 1.33:1, the interview with optional English subtitles as it was conducted in German. Finally we have a four-page booklet with notes from Hans Messian (in German) and director Steve Palackdharry (in English) plus credits for both Journey to Justice and Munich – Capital of Bavaria.

This disc is available direct via the Edition Filmmuseum website.

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