The Jews in World War II who formed resistance groups include one steely-nerved survivor in Julia Mintz’s story-filled documentary “Four Winters” who says it best: “If I’m not for me, who’s for me?” The men and women in this harrowing but spirited film took up arms in the forests of Eastern Europe to fight Nazis and their collaborators, living to tell tales that could be fodder for movie plots.
Mintz cycles through eight interviewees who recall missions to kill Nazis, as well the day-to-day struggle for survival. After the horror of seeing family members murdered — often the end point for many Holocaust stories — these civilians fortunately escaped, and took the leap of learning to become soldiers.
Everyone’s recall of tactical detail is daunting: we learn how to blow up a railroad, for one thing, and what to do with bullet wounds. One survivor, Faye Schulman, appears in a leopard-skin coat in pictures, adding an unexpected touch of panache.
The talking-head close-ups convey more than what’s spoken. Notice how a normally stolid Frank Blaichman flicks a satisfied look to the camera when saying the name of the big, tough farmer they outfoxed. Gertrude Boyarski, a self-described “spoiled girl” before the war, speaks with an especially flinty gaze.
The film’s deficits lie in its structure, which loses shape as it goes along. It could also use more information about its archival footage. But “Four Winters” offers an enduring warning amid today’s global struggle with authoritarian forces: As one speaker explains, her neighbors were already antisemitic before the war, but with power, they became vicious.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters.