Misha and The Wolves
Misha and the Wolves is the dramatic tale of a woman whose holocaust memoir took the world by storm, but a fallout with her publisher – who turned detective – revealed an audacious deception created to hide a darker truth.
I’ve never trusted wolves. You could argue this is because I’ve always been raised around ultra-docile dogs, but I think my 20+ years of watching movies are really to blame. The ratio just doesn’t hold water. For every domesticated wolf acting as Kevin Costner’s sidekick, there are countless more stalking our hero through a snowy tundra, howls echoing through the night.
So you could imagine my skepticism when faced with the story of Misha Defonseca. Here is the supposedly true story of a young Jewish girl who evaded the Nazis in the woods of Europe during WW2 by falling in with a pack of wolves. In Netflix’s stirring documentary, we hear Misha describe being taken in as a Mowgli-esque family member – traveling with the wolves and surviving on scraps from their hunts. It’s one of those “you have to hear it to believe it” type stories – I mean, these are wolves we are talking about! It’s crazy to believe that Misha would be seen as family instead of a feast.
And yet, aren’t all stories of Holocaust survival are to some degree impossible? At their core, they are all linked by showcasing the triumph of the human spirit against overwhelming circumstances. So it is not surprising that we are swept up in Misha’s story, just as the world was in the early 1990s. A book deal, publicity tour, and movie option are a natural fit for such a fantastical tale.
Sam Hobkinson’s smooth direction compels the audience forward. There’s a charming and particularly modern manner to the way that Hobkinson features key figures in Misha’s journey to stardom – their whole essence summarized into a single characteristic (“The Publisher”, “The Journalist”) We are not really meant to get to know these people (although “The Survivor” radiates winking humor with deep emotion in her few minutes of screen-time) – they are here to feed us the facts we need to drive the narrative forward, to build momentum towards the film’s core question. Which is, of course, can we believe Misha?
If you want to play detective, you’ll find the answers to Misha and the Wolves questions pretty quickly. A quick Google search will do the trick. The affirming or refuting of Misha’s story is only one part of the equation. Hobkinson’s film stumbles slightly on this follow-through: the film concludes with finality on the situation but left me wanting more on the motivations beneath the surface. A more rigorous interrogation would have been appreciated, but it is also fair to acknowledge that it might not have been possible.
Whether it be based on truth or lies, this is ultimately a story of family, legacy, and survival. Philipp Larkin once summed this story up a little more quickly:
“They f*ck you up, your mom and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”
Larkin was more to the point, but there weren’t any wolves.
*Streaming on Netflix on August 11th*
Written and Directed by Sam Hobkinson
*Official Selection Sundance Film Festival 2021*