TANGO OF SLAVES, named after a popular tune from the Warsaw Ghetto, was produced by Ilan Ziv for his two daughters, in an effort to give them their own images of the Holocaust and their family history.
Frustrated by popular Holocaust imagery, Ziv decided to take his father back to Warsaw, his former home. TANGO OF SLAVES is the story of that return, a physical journey that became a meditative essay about history, memory, and their preservation in imagery; a meditation which has been made more pressing as the Holocaust is being inevitably transformed from a living experience into motion picture drama.
While Ziv's and his father's physical journey takes them through modern Warsaw, where the father was born and where the Ghetto stood, the meditative journey takes us far away into a world of dreams, photographs and visual representation of the Ghetto. In its failed attempt to find artifacts of his father's life in Warsaw, TANGO OF SLAVES explores the only traces of the past that are left - photographs and documentary material produced by German soldiers, private individuals or Ministry of Propaganda professionals.
Early in the film, Ziv's father refers to himself as "The Last of the Mohicans." Out of 500,000 Jews that once lived in Warsaw, only a handful survived. "When we all die... it will become only a story... like the Trojan Wars."
Alternating between telling his father's story, the present futile search for documentary proof of it, and a critical reading of the images that did survive the Ghetto, TANGO OF SLAVES raises troubling questions about our ability to transmit historical memories to future generations.
"*** [Three Stars] A superb meditation on the meanings of history and mechanical representations of reality. It is a hugely ambitious, honestly emotional film, a personal attempt to come to grips with the largest themes, which entirely succeeds."—The Times
"Ziv's narration of his father's struggle is revealing ... a vivid demonstration of how memories are unavailable to the viewer, to the historian, even to the survivor, who accepts the perpetrator's staging of the ghetto's life as "true." [So] Ziv skillfully traces back the making of the [Nazi propaganda] footage ... [and] takes us on a deconstruction trip. For historians, this is a fascinating exercise in evaluating historical documents."—American Historical Review
"[Ziv] has confronted the pitfalls of banality by personalizing the cosmic horror as a family saga, and by creating a profound meditation on the way fading memories and facile media inevitably betray truth."—Andrew Sarris, New York Observer