'Blessed is the Match'

★★★

  • Not rated: Language, violence.
  • Running time: 1 hr 26 min.
  • Director: Roberta Grossman.
  • Playing: Town Center 5, Encino; Music Hall, Beverly Hills; University Town Center, Irvine
  • In a nutshell: Moving documentary about Zionist poet Hannah Senesh, who left the safety of British Palestine to try to rescue her mother and other Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust.

  • Brave, talented and arguably too idealistic for her own good, Hannah Senesh was a young Hungarian Jew who gave her life trying to save her people from the Nazis.

    The documentary “Blessed Is the Match” recounts and increasingly, judiciously restages her remarkable story, using as primary source material Hannah's own letters, diaries and excellent poems, as well as the writings of her mother, Catherine, who survived her.

    The daughter of a popular Budapest playwright, Hannah grew up in assimilated, bourgeois comfort. But as pre-war anti-Semitism grew, she became a Zionist and took off for Palestine (Catherine remained behind). In 1944 Hannah and some other young settlers accepted a British offer to parachute back into the Balkans as liaisons for area partisans. This ironically coincided with the retreating Germans' occupation of their former ally Hungary; hoping to rescue Catherine from the Holocaust, Hannah was almost immediately captured by the enemy.

    Mother and daughter were reunited for the last time in Budapest's Gestapo prison. Narrated by Joan Allen, who also provides Catherine's voiceover, Roberta Grossman's film nicely emphasizes the Seneshes' familial bonds while painting a persuasive portrait of a vibrant yet socially isolated young woman whose only real personal connections seem to have been to the mother and brother she was long separated from.

    A number of people who knew Hannah, including Israel's president, Shimon Peres, are interviewed.

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    Hannah's nephews lent a rich trove of family photos and other archives to the project, while the wider historical picture is sketched in more generally and conventionally.

    But “Blessed Is the Match” movingly achieves its goals: illuminating the only Allied mission to rescue Jews during World War II, and not only introducing a wider audience to one of Israel's true heroines, but insisting that we get to know her as a person as well as an inspiration.