On the River: History as a Palimpsestic Narrative in The Danube Exodus

Laszlo Strausz


This essay looks at the image of the ship in Péter Forgács’s documentary The Danube Exodus (1999) as a site that enables the viewer to meditate the encounter of the historical Self and the Other. Forgács, who works with the found footage material of an amateur filmmaker, teases out the paradoxical double movement of the historical event, in which both Jewish and German refugees use the river Danube as an escape route in the early phase of World War II, traveling on the same paddle steamer in opposite directions. The documentary about two river-stories directed by an Eastern European filmmaker becomes a contemplation on interconnectedness, national cross-pollination and the inscription of the viewer in these processes. I argue that the film offers its audiences a way to visually and conceptually consider the unfeasibility of historiographic authority.

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