Review: WWII docudrama ‘The Invisibles’ tells four powerful stories of survival

“The Invisibles” tells the harrowing true story of four Jewish people who evaded capture by the Nazis. (Menemsha Films)

My first Buffalo News movie review in more than a year was this powerful drama. I gave it 3 1/2 stars.

There is a striking sense of intimacy to the World War II docudrama “The Invisibles,” opening Friday at the Dipson Eastern Hills. This feeling of intense closeness is a direct result of the real-life interviews interspersed throughout this World War II-set story of survival. 

Like Warren Beatty’s “Reds” or Errol Morris’s “Wormwood,” the film is a mix of interviews and dramatic re-creations. While the entirety of “The Invisibles” is compelling, its dramatizations simply cannot compare to the interviews. Perhaps this is due to the inherent power of the four personal tales that make up the film.

Consider that the four individuals — Cioma Schönhaus, Hanni Lévy, Ruth Arndt and Eugen Friede — are four of the 1,500 Jews who survived hiding in Nazi-controlled Berlin. As they explain on camera, and as shown by director Claus Räfle, this was accomplished through ingenuity, resourcefulness, intelligence, and a profound desire to live.

Schönhaus, especially, is a stunning storyteller. He was a master forger, and his talents were in-demand. Just as compelling is Arndt, who dyed her hair blonde and spent as much time as she could in the cinema.

They lived, as one puts it, “hour by hour, day by day.” This meant that a hiding place could be lost with shocking suddenness. The film takes great pains to pay tribute to those who aided the four in their quest to stay alive, a fascinating and rather unexpected element.    

The interviews are the strongest element of “The Invisibles,” but the rest of the film is certainly powerful, occasionally even astonishing. Räfle makes each of the four protagonists unique and memorable, and masterfully dials up the suspense at key moments.

While we know the quartet survived the war, watching their various close calls with Nazi authorities — as well as ordinary Germans on the lookout for Jews — induces tremendous anxiety. “The Invisibles,” then, works on multiple levels: as a historical document, as thrilling cinema, and as satisfying drama.

The most notable accomplishment of “The Invisibles” is simple but profound: It places the names Cioma Schönhaus, Hanni Lévy, Ruth Arndt and Eugen Friede, as well as the names of some of the Germans who assisted them, firmly into the public consciousness. You won’t forget these names — and especially these faces.