Hiroshi Teshigahara’s “Women in the Dunes.”
Hiroshi Teshigahara’s “Women in the Dunes.”

An Australian horror movie about the Winchester Mystery House, a Canadian thriller about a logger trying to protect his family from drug dealers, and a Canadian thriller about ‘a post-apocalyptic bounty hunter trying to bring down a ruthless outlaw.’ Those, literally, are the only new releases landing in the Bay Area this coming weekend – slim pickings indeed, unless you’re particularly keen on low-budget features from the British Commonwealth.

Those otherwise inclined can take refuge at Pacific Film Archive, where a full weekend of goodies will be available for your movie-going pleasure, starting at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2nd with an encore screening of the previously recommended The End of the Ottoman Empire. It’s followed at 7:00 p.m. by Hiroshi Teshigahara’s once seen, never forgotten 1964 classic Suna no onna (Woman in the Dunes).

I first saw Teshigahara’s film at the UC Theatre in the 1980s (kids, the UC used to be what we oldsters call a ‘rep house’), and to say it took my breath away would be the proverbial understatement. The story of an entomologist who finds himself sequestered in a sand pit with a widow whose husband and child previously died in the very same pit, Woman in the Dunes is utterly unique and more than a little disturbing.

It’s also best experienced at the cinema – though I dutifully acquired a copy when Criterion released it on disc in 2007, the film just doesn’t work as well on a small screen. You should jump at any opportunity to experience Woman in the Dunes the right way, and PFA is kindly obliging.

A reel of ‘Das Ghetto’ as seen in ‘A Film Unfinished’
A reel of ‘Das Ghetto’ as seen in ‘A Film Unfinished’

Last month’s Memories of Underdevelopment is reprised at 5:00 p.m. on Sat., Feb. 3rd, but it’s Sunday’s Shtikat Haarchion (A Film Unfinished, screening on Feb. 4th at 7:00 p.m.) that is the Archive’s most intriguing offering this weekend.

Produced in 2010 and rarely seen since A Film Unfinished examines several reels of film* shot circa May 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto. Discovered in East German archives during the 1950s, the reels (each bearing the title Das Ghetto) consisted of staged scenes of ‘normal’ life in Warsaw’s Jewish quarter and were probably intended to prove the Nazis weren’t such terrible occupiers after all.

For decades the footage was considered genuine, with excerpted fragments popping up from time to time in documentaries. It wasn’t until the late ‘90s discovery of Das Ghetto’s off-cuts that it became clear the film was entirely fictional and had been shot by a Nazi crew supervised by a man named Willy Wist.

Wist abruptly abandoned the project, covered his tracks, and became a scrap metal merchant after the war. A Film Unfinished offers a deep analysis of his work (some of it in bad shape due to vinegar syndrome), with an emphasis on capturing those moments that reveal its artifice, including brief glimpses of Wist and his crew ‘directing’ the Ghetto’s inhabitants.

As the spools of film unreel in a screening room, director Yael Hersonski recorded the reactions of a handful of Ghetto survivors. Some of them recognize people they knew sixty years ago; others cover their eyes and gasp. You’ll probably react in latter fashion.

*The raw footage can be viewed here.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...