UK, 2005, 17.25 minutes.

director.gif (905 bytes) Benjamin Ross


Stellan Skarsgård - Franz Stangl
Simon McBurney
Sol Frieder
Benedick Bates


Barry Langford & Chris Connolly


Franz Stangl, the Commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp in 1942-43, enjoyed a most unusual relationship with the Jewish slave who cooked his meals. Teetering on the brink of insanity, their daily rituals were held together by a tenuous tread - until the cargo train brought a surprising arrival.

button_box.gif (205 bytes)ACCOLADES:

Best Drama Award -  LA Intenational Short Film Festival

Best of Festival Award - Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films 


  • Los Angeles International Short Film Festival - September 11, 2005
  • Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films - September 26, 2005
  • San Francisco World Film Festival - October 2005
  • 13th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival - October 21, 2005
  • 17th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival - February 11, 2007

button_box.gif (205 bytes)FULL SYNOPSIS:

On a typical morning the Treblinka extermination camp, Commandant Stangl, is being served coffee and pastry by an emaciated Jewish prisoner named Richard Blau, once a famous pastry chef in Vienna before the war. Stangl has developed an unusual fondness for this Jew and feels that in allowing Blau to cook for him, he is demonstrating an extraordinary kindness. On this particular morning Blau has painstakingly prepared his speciality: Torte Bluma. But while serving Stangl, he ruins the pastry; and with no more apricot jam left in Stangl's special stash, he cannot make a fresh one. Surprisingly the Commandant decides to take pity on him, sending him instead to search for more of the precious apricot confection. The receiving station is the processing center for new arrivals — Jews coming by cattle cars and destined for the gas chambers. Beside the recently discarded suitcases, in bins filled with confiscated bottles and jars, Blau miraculously finds some apricot jam. However, when he opens the jar and tastes it, he looks as if he's seen a ghost -- it's his father's very own jam from their shop in Vienna. Blau finds his father in a long line of new arrivals. They share a brief reunion that neither man had imagined would ever be possible. But Blau knows that his father is soon to be headed for the 'showers' and that he must plead to Stangl for one great horrifying favor that demonstrates what the camps have done to both Blau and Stangl.

button_box.gif (205 bytes)REVIEWS:


Directed by Benjamin Ross (RKO 281), this film is only 18-minutes long, perhaps because the very idea of its subject -- sonderkommandos -- is too mind-blowing for a feature film to accommodate. The sonderkommandos, of course, were Jewish slaves who were kept alive in the concentration camps to perform such ungodly tasks as to convince the new arrivals that nothing bad was afoot and to assist in processing them through the 'showers' and then disposing of the remains afterwards. "Torte Bluma", which is showing as an add-on short with the print of "Two Or Three Things I Know About Him" at Manhattan's Film Forum, stars Stellan Skarsgård as Franz Stangl, an SS officer at Treblinka who repeats the phrase "I walk this world but once" to himself repeatedly throughout the piece, quietly pondering his own moral fiber as he debates over issues like whether to grant his own sonderkommando, Blau (Simon McBurney) the privilege of walking his father to an immediate death after he arrives in the camp. This deep thought process is interrupted only when Stangl gets a hankering for Torte Bluma, an expensive jam.

Early in the piece, we see Blau serving Stangl a piece of cake that turns out to be riddled with bugs. Stangl knocks it away and screams, but stays his hand instead of pulling out his riding crop and giving Blau the beating of his life. That's Stangl's conscience kicking in, you see. He will do Blau the service of forgiving his mistake and not deliver the beating that he clearly deserves -- he will be the bigger man. This short film is, on some level, an attempt to grasp the idea of a completely misguided or worthless moral struggle -- a struggle that begins on such a misguided plateau that it can't possibly result in anything but farce. In that respect, it's reminiscent of another Holocaust piece, 2001's "Conspiracy", with Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich. That film closes with Holocaust architect Heydrich relating a story to his brethren Nazis meant to impart the lunatic lesson that they should take care not to lose their humanity, in the midst of their necessary business of carrying out the Holocaust.

"Unhappiness breeds inefficiency," Stangl tells another SS officer at one point in "Torte Bluma", when that officer questions Stangl's excessive kindness to Blau. The look in Stangl's eye when he says this is almost like a wink at the audience, as if he sees himself as some kind of Schindler-figure who is hustling his fellow Nazis in other to sneak in a good deed. "This pretense of affection," the other officer persists, "what good can it serve?" Stangl replies with his catch-phrase, "I walk this world but once." Stangl is a man who accepts his surroundings completely and has no higher plane with which to contrast them against. He undoubtedly sees himself exactly as he's presented -- a man who could teach these other officers a thing or two about the value of kindness, tolerance, and turning the other cheek. Skarsgard gives Stangl an appropriately stiff back -- he walks throughout the camp like the master of all he surveys, not in the manner of a bully looking for someone to pick on, but as a man actually keen to engage positively with the world.

The end of the film contains a facade -- a physical one, to match the moral one. Thanks to Stangl's impressive kindness, Blau is granted the privilege of taking his father out of the line, giving him a last meal, and then walking him to the "hospital." During the meal, he answers his father's questions with lies and encourages him to finish his meal, before he will be unknowingly walked to a quick and easy death. It's an incredible scene to watch, with better acting than can be found in many feature-length films these days. The "hospital" is a one-dimensional wooden frame designed to look like a hospital from a distance, complete with a Red Cross symbol. It's like a house on a movie set, with nothing behind the door except a few support beams pushed into the mud to hold it up. What's behind the door you can guess for yourself. The film ends where it began, with Stangl unwinding after a long day of work and rewarding himself, with a helping of his favorite jam -- Torte Bluma.
Every now and then a short film comes along with such a fantastic story that you wish it was feature length. Torte Bluma is one of those films.  Putting a personal perspective on the horrors of war, this little gem looks terrific. The cinematography is equal to that of far more expensive undertakings and the look is matched by the content, the details of which I won't go far into for fear of spoiling the great number of surprises.

A middle-aged man is doing a spot of woodwork. He calls to his butler for tea and everything smacks of the genteel upper-middle-classes until he bites into a slice of cake and ants scurry out.

What happens next turns the film on its head and makes for something a very long way from Merchant Ivory. This fantastic drama is made all the more powerful and chilling by the fact that it is based on a true story. Want to see man's humanity - or lack of it - exposed? You should. If you dare.