“I Am Here” begins with a promise it does not entirely keep. Jordy Sank’s documentary about the Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal ends its opening montage depicting antisemitic acts with a talk radio host telling listeners about the open letter Blumenthal wrote to a social media Holocaust denier.
“Instead of condemning the person who posted it,” the host says admiringly, Blumenthal “reaches out an arm of friendship and even of love.”
Given that lead-in, one might expect a documentary about a survivor who engages, maybe even transforms, those people who would refute history. That movie is not forthcoming. Instead, “I Am Here” is something more familiar, although undeniably stirring: a portrait of a dynamic soul whose life continues to defy the horrors she experienced.
Whether she is swimming laps or walking a beachfront in South Africa — where she has lived since the 1950s — Blumenthal is a vision of vigor and faith, yet it was not until late in life that she began to reckon openly with her memories.
In the film, as her 98th birthday nears, Blumenthal sits with her assembled children and grandchildren, recounting the ordeals she and her niece, Roma Rothstein, endured during the war.
Animated sequences accompany Blumenthal’s accounts of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Majdanek, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen camps. The animation tempers the graphic tortures of the Holocaust without quelling the heartbreak.
Sank was a teenager when he first met Blumenthal, and “I Am Here” feels like a primer pitched to younger viewers. As inspiring as his chosen subject is, the director missed an opportunity to use the story to deepen our understanding of our own memories, trauma and forgiveness.
I Am Here
Rated PG-13 for Holocaust-related thematic content, disturbing images and violence. Running time: 1 hour 13 minutes. In theaters.