The documentary “Misha and the Wolves” revisits a semi-infamous episode in Holocaust appropriation. In a 1997 book, an author named Misha Defonseca claimed that, as a child during World War II, she had trekked through the woods living with a pack of wolves.
The spoiler-averse will want to stop reading. But about a decade later, her story was exposed as a fraud. The film, directed by Sam Hobkinson and streaming on Netflix, recounts how various people — a publisher, Jane Daniel; a genealogist, Sharon Sergeant; and a Holocaust survivor, Evelyne Haendel, who tirelessly researched the case in Belgium — uncovered information about Defonseca’s real wartime experiences.
The movie also tries to illustrate the nature of deception, to the point of lying to the viewer. A person labeled by name as an ordinary talking head turns out to be a performer on a set; at a critical moment, we see her wig removed. But “Misha and the Wolves” is most absorbing when it deals with the search for truth. Haendel, who spent her own childhood during the Holocaust hiding as a Catholic, recalls how she pored over old phone books and other records.
“Misha and the Wolves” plays best on first viewing, with its surprises intact. The current documentary “Enemies of the State” deals more provocatively with verification issues in a less publicly settled case. Still, “Misha and the Wolves” shows how, in certain situations, people too polite to demand evidence can be hoodwinked. The film’s late efforts to portray Defonseca as at least some sort of victim don’t wash.
Misha and the Wolves
Rated PG-13 for lies. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
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