Holocaust films are a staple of any Jewish film festival, but it’s hard to tell a Shoah story that feels original. “The Body Collector” accomplishes that trick despite being based on a true story that played out in Dutch media and courtrooms from 1976 to 1980.
Because it’s as much the story of a reporter, Hans Knoop, as of its title character, war criminal and art collector Pieter Menten, “The Body Collector” has extra value at this time of distrust in the media and the free use of the “fake news” label for disagreeable reports. (The AJT is sponsoring the film.)
Knoop, the Jewish editor of a weekly newsmagazine in the Netherlands, gets a tip that a prominent art collector who is auctioning off some of his holdings not only stole much of his art while collaborating with the Nazis in Poland, but also led a pair of mass executions of Jews and non-Jews.
Through flashbacks, the film leaves no doubt about Menten’s guilty. The tension comes from whether he will meet justice and whether Knoop will emerge as a journalistic hero or see his career destroyed.
The flashbacks, while essential, are the weakest points of the film. The strongest are director Tim Oliehoek’s intercuts of Knoop’s family life, investigation and office battles with Menten’s life in a home with Europe’s largest private pool and struggles to maintain his elite position amid protests.
In one powerful sequence, Knoop sees the human remains being pulled from a pit in Ukraine at the same time Menten finds dead geese in the poisoned water of his beloved pool. The conflict between good and evil is revealed in the contrast between the victims and the reactions of Knoop (a strong Guy Clemens) and Menten (a terrifyingly bloodless Aus Greidanus).
“The Body Collector” avoids the trap of over-heroizing newsmen and newspapers. Knoop is driven to find the truth and get justice, but he makes mistakes, has faults and doesn’t look like Robert Redford or Daniel Craig. And at least one colleague is as monstrous as Menten
(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Jan. 31, 7:20 p.m., Atlantic Station; Feb. 1, 12:35 p.m., Hollywood, and 7 p.m., Perimeter Pointe; Feb. 3, 1 p.m., Springs Cinema; Feb. 8, 2:30 p.m., Springs Cinema)