'Misha and the Wolves' Shares an Incredible Story About the Exploitation of an Incredible Story

From the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, we review Sam Hobkinson's astounding stranger-than-fiction documentary about a controversial Holocaust memoir.

Misha and the Wolves
Sundance Institute

On the surface, Misha and the Wolves is your typical well-produced wild story told (more than shown) through talking-head interviews but flashily supplemented with archival and re-creation and animation and a prominent score so as to play out as just cinematic enough, rather than as an oral history. Its brethren these days include Three Identical Strangers, Searching for Sugar Man, Finders Keepers, the films of Bart Layton, and numerous true-crime docuseries. It pulls you in with the promise of an unbelievable story and strings you along to keep you interested with expectations for twists and revelations. This one entails numerous and varied acts and levels of treachery, all feeding into one great betrayal of trust.

The story of Misha and the Wolves is not one that is presented anew. Everything that has happened in this tale of a holocaust memoir about a young Jewish girl who lived with wolves after evading the Nazis during World War II in Belgium, and everything discovered about its legitimacy, was unveiled more than a decade ago. You can go learn all about it, including each of its surprising turns of plot, on Wikipedia — if all you’re wanting is the facts. But you come to a film like this for the way those facts, and more, are woven into an entertaining whole. To see the real characters involved and to understand the events more in their telling of having experienced them. And perhaps to gain some insight into the story in the end.

Conclusive insight is indeed what Misha and the Wolves ultimately has to its benefit. The film is otherwise compelling, and it has some tricks up its sleeves in the sinuous exposition of an incredible (yet not quite as UNBELIEVABLE! as it suggests) narrative. There are no memorable displays of character of the sort that you might want from a documentary inviting comparisons to Bart Layton’s The Imposter or Errol Morris’ Tabloid. But, by the end, the film has definitely given its audience enough to think about with regards to the specific story at hand, especially how you feel about the two central figures involved, as well as to broader ideas about history, trauma, and the willingness to believe in the unbelievable if it gets you something, whether that something is as simple as entertainment or as greedy as financial gain or as complicated as a method of survival or healing.

Because Misha and the Wolves deals with the Holocaust, some viewers will understandably have a more sensitive response to the story and its conclusion than others. And the question of exploitation, which is addressed in the film, could potentially carry over into our consideration of the production of the documentary itself. Especially for being the sort of film that plays with its audience for their amusement. That makes it also the sort of film where the viewer becomes a part of the story for having consumed it. Or at least a part of its multifaceted title. To that effect, it doesn’t matter if the documentary is artistically good or bad but whether it is morally good or bad, and that will be up for healthy debate.

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.