Edith (Strasberg) is a young French Jew captured by the Germans, separated from her family and sent to a concentration camp. When she's offered the chance to save her life by assuming the identity of a dead, non-Jewish thief, she takes it, and is eventually made a guard, Kapó, enforcing Nazi rule on other prisoners. When a platoon of captured Russian soldiers arrives, young infantryman Sascha (Terzieff) catches her eye, and their blossoming affection eventually spurs her to take action against their shared captors.
Why we love it
Susan Strasberg (daughter of famous acting instructor Lee Strasberg) delivers an unnerving performance in this stark, captivating WWII drama, conveying Edith's complex motivations almost entirely with her giant dark eyes. Director Pontecorvo ("Battle of Algiers") rightfully keeps the camera close to his star: from the film's harrowingly realistic first half through the tense prison-break finale, Strasberg is most always front and center. This Academy Award-nominated film showed that this young, gifted director was already a master at conveying mood, tone and narrative intensity on-screen. Don't miss this spare, unsung masterpiece among holocaust dramas.