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The Two Lives of Eva

by Esther Hoffenberg
First Run/Icarus Films, Brooklyn, New York, 2006
Video-DVD, 85 mins., color
Sale/video-DVD: $440; rental/video: $125
Distributor’s website: http://www.frif.com.

Reviewed by Nameera Ahmed


With the film The Two Lives of Eva, Esther Hoffman takes on a personal journey to try and unravel the hidden past of her mother Eva Hoffman. She tries to get to know who her mother really was before she married her Jewish father and converted to Judaism, before she left Poland for Paris, and before she started suffering from mental breakdowns, which were a source of constant anxiety for the family. In 1978, after another breakdown and more relapses, Esther traveled with her mother and taped her voice, hoping to later discover other, more obscure, aspects of her life.

Eva started going to a medical psychology centre after 1978, the year when Esther taped her. Through very intimate voice-interviews Eva reveals a bit about her early life and childhood: She was a citizen of Poland, of German descent. Her father Alexander Lamprecht, a disciplinary and hardworking man, owned a factory and villa in the city of Sosnowiec, where Eva lived a happy childhood. She narrates in a haunting voice how close she was to her father who thought Eva resembled her mother, and they were "like two peas in a pod", perhaps the reason for her being his favourite child.

When World War II broke out, the German troops started invading, and Poland was soon crushed; Eva’s parents got German citizenship, and Eva was put into a German high school. Their best friends, the Germans, became their worst enemies. Eva had a traumatic experience of the war, when she lost two of her siblings in the same year: Nina disappeared in the snow, and Lolek was lost in battle. Stas Hoffenberg, Eva’s future husband, appeared at this point. He seemed like someone who could take her away from the misery of her present life, where she felt stuck. She went on an invitation with him to Paris where she married him and where he started to reveal things to Eva about his past life in the ghettos which he had not done before.

For many years everything in the Hoffenberg household was presented as being ‘normal,’ but people could tell something was wrong inside; Eva kept withdrawn from people and events. Even though she had problems with her German identity and her inaction during the war, with all her complications, Eva felt guilty for converting to Judaism. She took a trip to see her father in 1963 but hardly ever talked about it to her family.

Finally, her daughter Esther discovers on her visit to Sosnowiec, that her grandfather Alexander’s house has been converted into a museum. She learns of his will, but Esther feels there is something wrong when she does not find any letters in response to so many letters her mother Eva wrote to him over the years. He had disowned his daughter Eva as well as his wife Gisela.

Through the interviews, which appear intermittently throughout the film, Esther tries to uncover her mother’s past by talking to her cousins, now in their old age; glancing through old black and white photographs, they talk in a nostalgic manner about Eva’s irresistible beauty, attractive personality, and her first love affair. The film helps us to delve into Eva’s life in an intimate way. It makes a mosaic with old photographs, memoirs, letters, tape-recorded recollections of her past, and home videos in an attempt to carefully sew the pieces together of a life torn apart. The Two Lives of Eva personifies the historical trauma, violence, the discordance and the dichotomy, of the destructive war and its aftermath. Through a personal journey, the film also goes deeper into the historical plights of the time and addresses the trauma, which affected the lives of countless people, on a larger scale.



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