Documentary Releases: Final Account (2020) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Focus Features
The last documentary feature film of the late producer-director Luke Holland Final Account isn’t so much of a historical excavation as it is a lifelong spanning personal mission for the filmmaker.  Passing away in June 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic but not before completing what is regarded as a summation of his life’s work and vocation, Final Account began in 2008 as Holland conducted over 300 interviews with German people who were either indirectly affiliated with or directly involved with Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.  Holland’s own grandparents were murdered in a concentration camp and compounded with his ongoing battle with cancer, the project couldn’t have been more urgent for Holland in what is essentially a searing confessional from those who participated in or looked upon the atrocities committed by the Nazi party.

Courtesy of Focus Features
The film begins with a quote by Primo Levi stating ‘Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous.  More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions’, an important point to consider as Holland’s investigation into the surviving members of the Third Reich unfolds.  Throughout the picture as Holland’s journey brings him face to face with elderly figures who either deny or admit their culpability in the Holocaust, the reality of the ordinary faces of those involved hits home immediately.  Moreover, the film highlights the shared complicity of silence and/or looking the other way as unspeakable crimes against humanity were committed.
One of the most chilling segments in the film comes near the very end with one particular aged former Nazi still rather proud of his “elitism” while still denying any wrongdoing.  The degrees with which responsibility is either taken or abdicated amongst the various interviewees speaks volumes to how much all involved really knew.  For every other person who claims ignorance of the crimes being committed, there’s always one who comes forward admitting to everything, making the portrait of these former Nazis chilling and from the horse’s mouth. 

Courtesy of Focus Features
While Luke Holland might not have lived to see Final Account gather steam in movie theaters and in public consciousness, the testament to his life’s work lives on in his third and most important  feature: one last discourse with the last ones left alive whose lives are forever misshapen and stained by their involvement in Hitler’s Nazi regime. 
Historians won’t come away having learned anything they haven’t already read about and yet here they do have the real faces of former great evildoers speaking candidly about their involvement in atrocities committed during the Second World War.  Whereas history books have only written about the faces of evil worn by members of the Nazi party, Final Account confronts evil directly and looks it in the eye unblinkingly.  In any case, Final Account doesn’t make for easy viewing or listening to the firsthand testimonies from those involved but this cinematic reckoning with evil does remain a timelessly relevant conversation people of today absolutely should learn from.

--Andrew Kotwicki