ⓘ Kapo (1960 film)


ⓘ Kapo (1960 film)

Kapo is a 1960 Italian film about the Holocaust directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. It was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. It was an Italian-French co-production filmed in Yugoslavia.


1. Plot

Naive 14-year-old Edith Susan Strasberg and her Jewish parents are sent to a concentration camp, where the latter are killed. Sofia Didi Perego, an older, political prisoner, and a kindly camp doctor save her from a similar fate by giving her a new, non-Jewish identity, that of the newly dead Nichole Niepas.

As time goes by, she becomes hardened to the brutal life. She first sells her body to a German guard in return for food. She becomes fond of another guard, Karl Gianni Garko. The fraternization helps her become a kapo, one of those put in charge of the other prisoners. She thrives while the idealistic Sofia grows steadily weaker.

When she falls in love with Sascha Laurent Terzieff, a Russian prisoner of war, Edith is persuaded to play a crucial role in a mass escape, turning off the power. Most of the would-be escapees are killed, but some get away. Edith is not one of them. As she lies dying, she tells Karl, "They screwed us over, Karl, they screwed us both over." She dies saying the traditional Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael.


2. Cast

  • Paola Pitagora
  • Eleonora Bellinzaghi
  • Susan Strasberg as Edith, alias Nicole Niepas
  • Laurent Terzieff as Sascha
  • Annabella Besi
  • Gianni Garko as Karl
  • Dragomir Felba
  • Emmanuelle Riva as Terese
  • Didi Perego as Sofia
  • Graziella Galvani
  • Dusan Perkovic as Commandant
  • Bruno Scipioni

3. Critical reception

In their book Foreign Film Guide, authors Ronald Bergan and Robyn Karney wrote:

What does one say about this effort? Pontecorvo has jam-packed his film with every kind of tear-jerking cliche on offer and entrusted the debasement and regeneration of his heroine to a sadly inept actress. The result is an overheated melodrama which does a grave disservice to the enormity of its subject, although the horrors of the camps are realistically portrayed".

In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Bernard-Henri Levy wrote:

Pontecorvo earned "the deepest contempt" of French director Jacques Rivette in an article in Cahiers du cinema nearly 50 years ago for a scarcely more insistent shot in the 1959 film Kapo." The shot was of the raised hand of actress Emmanuelle Riva, her character Terese electrocuted on the barbed wire of the concentration camp from which she was trying to escape. The criticism hung over Pontecorvo until his dying day. He was ostracized, almost cursed, for a shot, just one.

Levy contrasted this reaction to one shot with what he asserted is the garish exploitation of Nazi history in Inglourious Basterds 2009 and Shutter Island 2010.