Reviews

Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh

The film makes clear in readings from Hannah Seneh's diaries and poems that her dedication to building a Jewish state has shaped her legacy.


Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh

Director: Roberta Grossman
Cast: Meri Roth, Marcela Nohynkova, Zdenek Kozakovic, Peter Hay, Michael Berenbaum, Shimon Peres, Joan Allen (narrator)
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Balcony Releasing
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2009-01-28 (Limited release)
Website

"I am asked repeatedly, 'How did it happen?' How can it be that I am alive despite the profound suffering, the terrible pain, the danger of death that hovered over me? Those who ask know, of course, that I am the mother of Hannah Senesh." As she writes in her memoir, Catherine Senesh is ever reminded of her daughter. While most mothers might feel the same way about their daughters, for Catherine, the context for remembering is enlarged, the reminders more acute and frequent, because Hannah is renowned as the "Joan d'Arc" of Israel.

Born in 1921, Hannah Senesz's route to such historical celebrity was hardly ordained. As recounted in Roberta Grossman's documentary, Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, she and her brother Giora grew up in a typical upper middle-class Jewish household in Budapest. Professor Judy Baumel-Schwartz attests that she was an excellent student and dutiful daughter, a child of privilege: she has her clothes laid out for her each morning, and "was most definitely used to having things done for her." When she was six, her playwright father died suddenly, a trauma Hannah turned into her own sort of art, in poems she dictated to her grandmother and, as she grew older, diary entries (these are, perhaps inevitably, compared to Anne Frank's in the film). Photos suggest she was a serious 13-year-old, as she describes herself: "I don’t think I'm a particularly pretty girl, but I hope to improve," she wrote. "I guess I was born to be a philosopher because in all things, I see life in miniature... I'm always thinking of life and death."

This preternaturally sober turn of mind, the documentary submits, led Hannah to seek order in a series of social structures. As an adolescent in the mid 1930s, she was elected to a post in her school's literary society, only to have the position revoked because Jewish students were not allowed to serve. With this, Hannah learned abruptly "what it really means to be a Jew in Christian society," specifically a society increasingly inclined to anti-Semitism. Here the film includes the usual images of Hitler and fervent crowds yelling his name: as she pursued her dream of belonging, Hannah faced the rise of fascism in Europe and Hungary's anti-Semitic party, the Arrow Cross, as well. With her brother off to university in France, she moved to Palestine, where she determined to work toward a Jewish state.

The film follows Hannah's evolving sense of responsibility, her resolve to attend agricultural school because, she wrote her mother at the time, "There are already far too many intellectuals in Palestine. What they need are workers to help build the country." While World War II expanded and Catherine worried back in Budapest, Hannah dedicated herself to Zionism. Her letters home indicate her desire for another sort of romance, hoping to meet a "boy" with whom she might share her future (her poems at age 21, such as "Loneliness," are full of longing: "Could I meet one who understood all without word, without search, confession or lie?") The fact that she did not meet this "one" before she embarked on her most dangerous adventure only enhances the legend of Hannah Seneh, the virgin warrior. As Dina Schechman, another member of the Kibbutz Sdot-Yam, recalls, "We were all idealists, but she was exceptionally idealistic. It created a distance between us and made her almost like a statue."

The distance was both exacerbated and reduced when Hannah was one of three women to go on a mission to Hungary, in hopes of rescuing local Jews from the Nazi incursion (which came late in the war). The 30-some volunteers parachuted into Yugoslavia, then made their way across the border, where they were almost immediately captured. The story of Hannah's imprisonment and torture is made more extraordinary when her interrogators (seeking a radio code she has memorized) discover that her mother lives nearby. They haul Catherine into prison as well. Though she was surprised to learn what her daughter was up to, Catherine refused to help the fascists. "If there was something Hannah did not want to reveal," she writes in the memoir read here by Joan Allen, "She had good reason and under no circumstances would I influence her otherwise."

Various cellmates and fellow parachutists recall Hannah's courage and resilience, but offer little insight into her own understanding of her evolving role as an emblem of resistance. Even as she was abused -- her teeth broken, her face and body beaten -- she would wave from her cell window (at one point, a woman remembers, she drew a Star of David in the dust on the glass), encourage fellow prisoners, and buttress her mother's resolve to survive too. The ordeal ended badly, but Hannah's belief in the cause of the Jewish state was unshakable.

As the film makes clear in readings from her diaries and poems (most discovered in a suitcase she left in Palestine), as well as some slow-motiony, melodramatic reenactments of her time in prison (in which Meri Roth plays Hannah and Marcela Nohynkova her mother), this belief has shaped Hannah's legacy. Though she never imagined herself as a symbol of that state, after her death, Hannah was revered, her body laying in state for three days in addition to serving as the focus for a grand funeral procession. Blessed is the Match doesn’t look at the various contexts for this reverence, or even attend too closely to Hannah's sense of self. Instead, it celebrates her own florid metaphors. As she wrote in the poem that gives the film its name, "Consumed in kindling flame, blessed is the flame that burns in the secret vastness of the heart."

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image