Saturday, May 18, 2013

No Place On Earth (Rhoades)

“No Place on Earth”
Is Underground Movie

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever been stuck underground? I have. Thank goodness I’m not prone to claustrophobia. That was back in my caving days, when I thought nothing of wriggling on my stomach through bat guano, squeezing through narrow limestone crevices to explore a new cavern.
That was a good day’s adventure.
But could I stay down there for a year-and-a-half without seeing the light of day? I doubt it.
However, during World War II’s Holocaust five Jewish families (38 people) did exactly that, hid in a pitch-black Ukraine cave for over 500 days to escape the Nazis. This is the longest uninterrupted underground survival in recorded human history.
“No Place on Earth” -- the documentary that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema -- tells that harrowing story. Sitting there in the darkened theater you’ll share all the unease of being beneath the earth’s surface.
While exploring a 77-mile-long Western Ukraine cave system in 1993, New Yorker Chris Nicola stumbled over some objects. “Those objects were someone’s life,” he realized. That set Nicola off on a decade-long quest to find the people who had lived there in the dark recesses of a cave known as Priest’s Grotto in the Bilche Zlota Valley.
Being a NYPD cop, Nicola was good at investigations. Although locals were reluctant to talk, he finally tracked down members of the Stermer and Wexler clans who had hidden in cave.
“No human being had ever set foot there,” recalls one of the escapees.
 “I forgot there was a sun,” says another. They collected water dripping off rocks and scavenged food on the surface at night.
“We were very hungry,” says a survivor. A glass of water was for a whole family.
They survived there until being discovered by the Gestapo in 1943. While several were killed, one of the cave dwellers says, “We beat the odds. They didn’t get all of us.”
In this hybrid documentary, actors portray witnesses, but real-life survivors provide the movie’s grounding in fact. These latter-day survivors -- including Saul Stermer, Sam Stermer, Sonia Dodyk and Sima Dodyk -- provide a commentary to the reenactments.
It’s a very dark movie, in more ways than one.

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