Still Life in Lodz

"Still Life in Lodz" Screening at Symphony Space, NYC

Expired July 1, 2022 2:30 AM
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 The lure of family mysteries lies at the heart of STILL LIFE IN LODZ, an emotionally riveting documentary that journeys to the historically tumultuous city of Lodz, Poland.  Here, a surprise reunion with a painting that hung in the same apartment for 75 world-altering years becomes a probing investigation into the power of memory, art, time and resilience.  


What follows is a deeply personal detective story rich with twists and turns.  But, equally, the film is an ode to the lost generations of Jewish Lodz and a look at how fragile—but also how incredibly necessary—our relationship with the past is for creating the future.  

One Painting, A Century of Jewish Life


The stirring mystery begins inside an ordinary-seeming tenement apartment where a painting has witnessed the most extraordinary of times.  The painting is a serene still life.  But it has clung to the wall through incredible personal and global turmoil-- through both war and peace, through moments of joyous communion and shocking chaos, through everyday scenes of family love and the shattering terror of hate, displacement, the Holocaust and totalitarian rule.    


Once, this painting was the constant companion to Lilka Elbaum, who grew up in Lodz and lived there until 1968, when at the age of 19, an antisemitic purge drove her and her entire family out of Poland.  The portrait might have been a simple likeness of lush flowers and ripe fruit, but for Lilka, it had been an indelible connection to her childhood and to Lodz itself.


            48 years later, by remarkable chance, Lilka has an emotional re-encounter with the painting in Lodz.  This will spark a new journey full of startling new discoveries but also to a reckoning with the countless ghosts and complicated stories of the city.  She brings two important companions on her trek, each with roots in Lodz from different eras, each searching for their own answers.  New Yorker Paul Celler brings the perspective of a second-generation Holocaust survivor as he traces how his mother, against all odds, made it out of the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz. Exploring the pre-War life of Lodz is Israeli artist Roni Ben-Ari who is drawn back to the spot of her family’s textile workshop once located in Lilka’s same building.  Together, the trio maps their own labyrinthine stories onto Lodz’s current landscape.  

Memories Come Alive

All of this comes to life through a mix of live moments, expressive original animation, authentic drawings and rare archival footage, which make the past as visceral and intimate as the present.  The film is directed by Emmy Award winner Slawomir Grünberg (director and producer of more than 45 docs including the acclaimed KARSKI & THE LORDS OF HUMANITY).  Himself a Jewish native of Lublin, Poland, Grünberg taps into a handmade style to get to the story’s innermost emotions and to mirror the intangible nature of memories.  


His unusual approach makes these unique accounts of Jewish perseverance fresh.  Expansive as the story is, Grünberg zeroes in on the details: on the everyday mementos and artifacts that become the precious vessels where families store their most vital remembrances, and which so often are lasting clues to our life stories.  As Lilka, Paul and Roni hunt for signs and symbols that can link them to their forebears, the film ponders how it is that mere inanimate objects—artworks, furniture, keepsakes, street corners, the very buildings we dwell within—are enchanted with feeling, meaning and connections to one another. 


The Time Capsule of Lodz


            STILL LIFE IN LODZ also takes audiences deep into the once thriving Jewish community of Lodz.  Jewish culture has been at the core of this once great center of textile manufacturing—still filled with well-preserved factories, grand apartment buildings and industrial magnates' palaces—since it came to the fore in the 19th century.  


For a time, the city hosted Poland’s second largest Jewish population. Then, in 1939, German troops rolled into Lodz, annexing it to the Third Reich.  Soon after, Nazis undertook an unthinkably inhumane plan:  driving nearly 200,000 Jews into an overcrowded, 1.5 square-mile area that would become known as the Lodz Ghetto, sealing the people inside with barbed wire, leaving them to fend for themselves amidst hunger, forced labor and deportations to concentration camps.  In 1944, the entire surviving population of Lodz Ghetto was “liquidated” to Auschwitz.  


Yet even mass catastrophe could not stop Lodz’s Jewish life.  With an astonishing fortitude, thousands returned after the War—including Lilka’s parents, courageously saved by Polish Gentiles—determined to restart the community.  Rising antisemitism would again shrink the population in the 50s and 60s, but there remains today a small but resolute Jewish community in the contemporary city, keeping the heritage going.  


For Lilka, Paul and Roni, diving into the riddles and secrets of Lodz’s past brings new personal revelations.  But it also opens a way forward.  For they each believe that a brighter future can be built by truly honoring the voices that still speak from Lodz’s streets and walls…and from a painting that even in stillness was able to contain some of the vast beauty, wonders and sorrows of an entire century.  


  • Year
  • Runtime
    75 minutes
  • Language
  • Country
    United States, Poland
  • Director
    Sławomir Grunberg
  • Screenwriter
    Lilka Elbaum, Sławomir Grunberg
  • Producer
    Barbara Grunberg
  • Co-Producer
    EC1 Łódź - City of Culture, LOGTV, Ltd. - Sławomir Grunberg, National Center for Jewish Film
  • Filmmaker
    Sławomir Grunberg
  • Cast
    Lilka Elbaum, Paul Celler, Roni Ben Ari
  • Cinematographer
    Sławomir Grunberg
  • Editor
    Cezary Kowalczuk
  • Animator
    Marcin Podolec
  • Composer
    Wojciech Lemański
  • Sound Design
    Piotr Knop
  • Music
    Wojciech Lemański