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Essential Art House: Kapo

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Editorial Reviews

A teenage Jewish girl is captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. She is able to change her identity and rises in the ranks of the prisoners to become a "kapo" or camp guard, but the atrocities she witnessses propel her into self-sacrifice.


Special Features

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Product Details

  • Actors: Susan Strasberg, Laurent Terzieff, Emanuelle Riva, Didi Perego, Gianni Garko
  • Directors: Gillo Pontecorvo
  • Producers: Franco Cristaldi, Moris Ergas
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: Italian
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: June 1, 2010
  • Run Time: 117 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0035ECHJU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,767 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Essential Art House: Kapo" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Gerard D. Launay on May 16, 2010
Format: DVD
This is one of the rare films to show the effect of torture and death in the Nazi camps to destroy an individual's moral compass. A Kapo is a prison trustee and the heroine of this tale - Edith (a 14 year old Jewish girl) becomes a Kapo in her desperate effort to do anything - ANYTHING - to survive. It begins when she sexually services a German soldier. Later she takes on the identity of a non-Jewish prisoner, and finally she becomes one of the Kapos - those prisoners who enforce the rules of the Nazis against the other Jews. Alas, that is the reality of the Kapos, and that reality is rarely depicted in the films of the camps. The descent into moral madness is shown - and it is not a pretty experience. The camps were brutal and the pressures are unimaginable to us today. The movie is a valuable addition to the film record of the Holocaust. Another movie about the process of moral degradation is "The Counterfeiters" but it does not depict the horrors as graphically as "Kapo."
Possibly one of the most realistic holocaust films - other than the documentaries - is "The Grey Zone." These are not easy films to watch...so space them out.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Tom on May 10, 2010
Format: DVD
Criterion recently released legendary Italian director, Gillo Pontecorvo's "Kapo" (1959) to DVD.

In the film, doe-eyed Susan Strasberg plays Edith, a lovely, young Jewish girl transported to a Nazi German concentration camp in Poland who takes on a new identity in order to survive, eventually becoming a "kapo," a Funktionshäftling or "prisoner functionary." Strasberg worked on this film immediately after being inexplicably passed over for the movie version of "The Diary of Anne Frank" following her Tony-nominated Broadway portrayal. Her work in "Kapo" as the conflicted "Nicole" is excellent.

As the Red Army advances steadily towards the camp the prisoners wildly anticipate their liberation. A few of the Soviet soldiers are captured by the Germans and interned in the camp, providing impetus for the film's dramatic ending. Pontecorvo, an Italian communist, depicts the Soviets in what can only be described as a highly idealistic manner while history tells us that the Red Army and NKVD often rivaled the Nazis in apportioning death and misery.

"Kapo," one of the very first films to treat the horrors of the Holocaust in a realistic fashion, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1961 as Best Foreign Film. The cinematography of Aleksandar Sekulovic is outstanding. Director Pontecorvo went on to direct the controversial masterpiece, "The Battle of Algiers," in 1966.

But buy this movie for Strasberg, a beautiful and talented actress who never got her due.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Frank Gorshin on April 21, 2010
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Gillo Pontecorvo, who also made "The Battle of Algiers," gives us the only kind of movie that treats the Holocaust respectfully and responsibly: in order to survive, a Jewish girl (almost?) sells her soul by assuming another person's identity and becoming a concentration camp guard. Excellent cinematography and authentic moral complexity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dirk Reed on February 6, 2012
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I have to admit I was not familiar with "Kapo" at all, perhaps because it had never been released by 'The Criterion Collection', but under the 'Janus Films' label. I was totally blown away by this movie, and not just by its scale - the numbers of extras, the sets and its epic scope - but also by its focus on individual personalites and relationships. I felt a similar power from this film as I did from Jean Renoir's "Grand Illusion." This is a brilliant, devastating portrait of life in a Nazi prison camp and the physical, moral and spiritual sacrifices people make in attempting to maintain their sanity and to survive in a surreal, nightmarish world of chaos and death. Susan Strasberg and the entire cast, the direction, the cinematography and the score are absolutely first-rate. This is not a movie for casual viewing - it is a harrowing, unforgettable glimpse of hell - of being a victim of the Nazi 'cleansing' of Europe during World War II. You must see this film!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John A. Lind on June 16, 2015
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Gillo Pontecorvo, one of Italy's best directors, made so very few films. The consensus is he was so fearful of not being able to do a film exactly right that it paralyzed his ability to start moving toward the production of one. Thus a half-dozen years separate this film from his next one, his seminal "The Battle of Algiers." We see a similar style, though, with his use of B&W in nearly a newsreel or documentary style of cinematography to convey the story visually. Both this and The Battle of Algiers received well deserved nominations for Academy Best Foreign Language Film Oscars.

A young Susan Strasberg, who had played Anne Frank in the Broadway stage Diary of Anne Frank production, plays the leading role: a 14 year old French Jewish girl living in Paris. On the way home from a piano lesson she witnesses her parents being rounded up for deportation to a concentration camp. In spite of her parents' pleadings to run away and hide, she runs toward them and is forced onto the truck. At the concentration camp, the children are separated from their parents and divided into groups. A young boy tells her they are all going to be killed the next day as he overheard SS guards discussing it. She seizes an opportunity to escape the shed and tries to find her parents. Instead, she's taken in by a non-Jewish criminal prisoner who turns her over to a prisoner doctor that gives her the identity of a deceased criminal prisoner (clothing and tattoo). Jewish internees wore yellow stars of David; non-Jewish wore inverted triangles with the color indicating criminal or political. The next morning she witnesses the naked children she had escaped from and her naked parents (with other adults) being herded off to their death in the gas chambers.
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