Review

Trauma of war and decades of separation play out in riveting documentary 'Aida's Secrets'

One family’s silences and lies unravel before our eyes in the gripping, intimate “Aida’s Secrets.”

Spurred by their uncle’s quest, sibling Israeli directors Alon and Shaul Schwarz trace a decades-old mystery whose twists and revelations could have propelled a sprawling novel or a dramatic miniseries. In their concise telling, tearful reunions are just the beginning, and the chill of World War II’s long shadow isn’t readily dispelled.

Though the filmmakers’ uncle Izak Szewelwicz, raised in Israel by an adoptive family, had begun a long-distance relationship with his birth mother as a teenager, it would be many years later that he learned he had a younger brother. That bombshell sets off the documentary’s stirring chronicle of genealogical detective work, as well as the brothers’ playful kibitzing and clear delight in getting to know each other.

Why Izak and Shep, both born to Aida in the postwar Bergen-Belsen camp for displaced Jews, were sent to separate countries is one of the riddles that hangs over their story. For Shep, a blind former Paralympic athlete, the question of why his mother never contacted him, although they both lived in Canada for the past 70 years, weighs heavy.

The riddles — including the haunting matter of an unidentified man in a family photograph — remain, even after the reunited brothers bring their questions to Aida herself. The gaping blanks in her memory attest to something other than old age, and “Aida’s Secrets” movingly embodies the traumas that, at war’s end and long after, are inseparable from liberation.

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In English and Hebrew with English subtitles.

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino

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