“The Invisibles,” which tells the astonishing stories of four of the roughly 7,000 German Jews in Berlin who tried to escape deportation to the camps in World War II, is two movies spliced into one. The first records interviews with the four — Cioma Schönhaus, Hanni Lévy, Eugen Friede and Ruth Gumpel (née Arndt) — conducted in 2009. The second uses these testimonies as the basis for a scripted drama that the director, Claus Räfle, weaves around interview segments like extended re-enactments.
What results is neither fish nor fowl, but a disappointingly stilted hybrid that gathers momentum only to hit one roadblock after another. No sooner are we gripped by a character’s imminent capture than the action is paused for commentary. We would rather stick beside Hanni (Alice Dwyer), a 17-year-old orphan, as she dyes her hair and haunts the city’s movie theaters, often sleeping on the streets. Or have uninterrupted time to wonder at the breathtaking inventiveness of Cioma (the excellent Max Mauff), who forges passports in exchange for food stamps and even buys himself a sailboat.
As the survivors, all young adults, dodge the Gestapo and sidle past Jewish informers like the infamous Stella Goldschlag, these scripted sections, though engagingly acted and atmospherically filmed, play like mere teasers for epic tales of courage and ingenuity. We never find out why a Nazi officer knowingly shelters Ruth (Ruby O. Fee) by employing her as a maid. And we never learn much about the fellow Germans — including Christians and Communists and those in mixed marriages — who risk their lives to help the fugitives.
Hearing from these survivors is vitally important. But by smushing together two distinct styles of narrative, “The Invisibles” risks draining the power from both.