Among countless documentaries devoted to the Nazi era, "The Red Orchestra" focuses on people who voluntarily risked their lives, rather than Holocaust...

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Among countless documentaries devoted to the Nazi era, “The Red Orchestra” focuses on people who voluntarily risked their lives, rather than Holocaust victims whose lives were brutally taken. For at least half of the former, death under Hitler’s regime was the price of bold defiance.

Known as the Red Orchestra, they numbered only 100 or so, still enough to qualify as Germany’s largest antiNazi resistance unit. Consisting mostly of Berliners (40 percent of them women) from various religious and political backgrounds, they were united in their contempt for the Third Reich. From 1933 until their underground network was revealed in 1942 (resulting in half of them being executed and many others sent to prison camps), the Red Orchestra led a clandestine campaign of startling efficiency, so cleverly concealed that allied secret services, and later the CIA, perpetuated the Nazi belief that Red Orchestra members were Communist traitors, and persisted in mistakenly labeling survivors as Cold War spies.

Movie review 3 stars

Showtimes and trailer

“The Red Orchestra,” directed by Stefan Roloff. In German and English with English subtitles. 87 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains some disturbing images). Grand Illusion, through Thursday.

This last fact adds a layer of poignant integrity to the postwar fate of Red Orchestra survivors, the last of whom are interviewed in this revealing digital-video documentary by Stefan Roloff. One of the survivors is Roloff’s father, Helmut, who died in 2001, and while the director never draws this relation to our attention, it’s clear that “Red Orchestra” is a labor of love, deserving its rightful place in the vast audio-visual archives of Nazi-era history.

As a documentary, it’s somewhat dry and straightforward, and Roloff combines talking-head interviews with re-enactments rendered with a technique that resembles black-and-white engravings (or chalkboard drawings) brought to life. It’s a distracting stylistic decision, but understandable given that no actual footage exists of Red Orchestra activities.

Many of these activities were uncommonly brave and potentially fatal, carried out with all the intrigue of a John le Carré thriller. It’s not a great film, but “The Red Orchestra” pays honorable tribute to these little-known resistance fighters, and that makes it worthwhile.

Jeff Shannon: