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Review: ‘Broken Dreams’ reveals a Holocaust story worth investigating further

Polish actress Aleksandra Bernatek performs a dramatic recitation of Holocaust victim Renia Spiegel’s writings in the documentary “Broken Dreams.”
Polish actress Aleksandra Bernatek performs a dramatic recitation of Holocaust victim Renia Spiegel’s writings in the documentary “Broken Dreams.”
(Smoking Mirror Productions Inc.)

If “Broken Dreams,” the brief documentary from writer-director Tomasz Magierski, feels a bit cursory and cobbled together, it importantly highlights the story of Renia and Ariana Spiegel, two young Jewish sisters who struggled to survive in Nazi-occupied Poland. What an amazing narrative feature this tale could make.

The doc was inspired by the unearthing of a near-700-page journal that Renia, who’s been compared to famed diarist Anne Frank, kept from 1939 to 1942, prior to being slain by Nazis in her hometown of Przemysl. The touching, poetic chronicle, hidden in a New York vault for more than 50 years, was recently published as “Renia’s Diary: A Holocaust Journal.”

Magierski, who was instrumental in the diary’s resurgence, uses a mix of techniques to tell the Spiegels’ evocative story: a lengthy, lovely interview with now-88-year-old Ariana (she also sings and recites poetry), a wealth of archival materials and the dramatic recitation of Renia’s writing by young Polish actress Aleksandra Bernatek.

Although vital and intriguing, the film could have been more seamlessly assembled. The narrative feels a bit disjointed and, though we learn much about Ariana’s youth (a child actress, she was dubbed the “Polish Shirley Temple”), more about her 70-plus years in New York, where she and her mother moved in 1946, may have filled in some blanks.

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“Broken Dreams”
Not rated

(In English and Polish with English subtitles)

Running time: 1 hour, 9 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica


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