Review by Cole Groth
Syndrome K is a documentary about a doctor who created a fake disease, Syndrome K, to save hundreds of Roman Jews from being exterminated during the Holocaust. This harrowing story of heroism stands out to me as one of the most fascinating stories shown in the past year, and this documentary sheds important light on past heroes. It's rather unfortunate that some bafflingly amateur production decisions distract from the seriousness of both the topic at hand and the film as a whole.
Running at just under an hour, this documentary has some serious issues with pacing. It's hard to emphasize just how important it is to research the topic of a documentary before making it, an issue that is revealed very early on in the film. Instead of focusing on the titular disease of the film, director Stephen Edwards gives an in-depth commentary on how the Catholic church handled its relationship with the Nazis, how the Pope wasn't able to do much about intervening in the Holocaust without becoming a target himself, and other reasons why action against the Nazis wasn't a possibility for the Romans. This is frustrating because while it is undeniably interesting, it distracts from the point of the documentary. Instead, we don't get to hear about what Syndrome K is until about halfway through the film, and it almost seems like not enough research was done on the fake disease, which leads to a half-baked and slightly unhelpful documentary.
Syndrome K was a disease created by doctor and anti-fascist activist Adriano Ossicini. The Roman Jews desperately trying to escape the grip of the SS were able to do so by being admitted to the Fatebenefratelli Hospital with a diagnosis of a highly contagious yet extremely fictitious disease. Believing the Jewish race to be inferior and impure, many Nazi officers were hesitant to do their due diligence and follow up on deporting the Jews to concentration camps because they did not want to contract this disease. This summary, provided to me through two paragraphs of an article on the disease, is about as in-depth as the documentary goes. Adriano's son gives most of the commentary on the events from his dad's perspective, but it's simply not enough detail to justify this being a standalone documentary.
Speaking of perspective, the documentary's weakest part, without a doubt, is how the interviewees are dubbed over. Since most of the participants interviewed were Roman Jews themselves, they had to be dubbed in English so the audience could understand. It's almost comical how the people who perform the dubbing speak with these ridiculously thick accents. I had a hard time focusing on the gravity of the situations being described because the only audio being heard sounds like American actors trying their hardest to sound like they're Roman. The late Ray Liotta provides the narration for the other portions of the documentary, but it's not that much better. Some graphics look lame, which contributes to my overall feeling that this is a poorly produced film about an extraordinarily interesting topic.
Fans of unique historical events should check this film out if they haven't heard about the truly fascinating story of Syndrome K. However, if you're a fan of documentaries in general, this one doesn't stick out as anything but an interesting story told poorly. If there was a higher budget and more time to put this together, it could've been a necessary watch for any history fans. Still, I just can't recommend it fully because it isn't quite good enough to hold a candle to the heroes of the Holocaust like Adriano Ossicini.
Syndrome K is now available on VOD.