Tense and well put-together, this drama about protecting the evidence of events inside a concentration camp in World War Two is haunting, thought-provoking and well worth your time.
We live in the age of the selfie, a time where all of us carry cameras with us at all times and every conceivable moment is documented, shared and scrutinised. It is easy to forget that there was ever a time where moments of significance and historical importance could be not only discarded but deliberately destroyed altogether.
The Photographer of Mauthausen is now streaming on Netflix and tells the story of a group of prisoners interned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two. As the prisoners come to learn that the Nazis have lost the battle of Stalingrad and could be about to lose the war, they realize that they must find a way to protect the photographic evidence of what happened at the camp before their captors can destroy it forever.
Spanish filmmaker Mar Targarona (Boy Missing, Ull per ull) has put together a moody and affecting drama that handles troubling subject matter respectfully without watering down the reality of the oppressive and terrible conditions in which the prisoners live. The color palette is muted and the orchestral score swirls and swells in all the right places. The camera never flinches when showing us something unpleasant but holds on the faces of the prisoners and guards long enough to show us how the events are affecting the characters.
The story focuses on Francesc Boix, hauntingly played by Mario Casas (The 33, The Invisible Guest), a prisoner with a flair for photography who documents not only the realities of camp life but does so in a way that evokes a wider truth about the human condition. There is a great piece of dialogue early on that summarises the film’s thesis. When discussing the use of light in photography with his Nazi supervisor and camp artiste Ricken; Ricken declares “reality doesn’t exist”, how we document events directly impacts the way they are interpreted: a comment on both the role of art and propaganda.
As the story progresses we see the ingenuity that is required to pull off the task of protecting the camera film and the level of risk the prisoners are willing to tolerate to make it work. There is a particularly memorable sequence in which they have to perform a variety show as a cover for the plan. The scenes of the singing and dancing are juxtaposed with an act of cold, calculated barbarism from one of the guards. This really effective sequence gives a great sense of both the stakes involved and the lengths the prisoners will go to in order to protect the legacy of Mauthausen.
The Photographer of Mauthausen is a tense, well put together drama that serves as a timely reminder of the importance of capturing and preserving truth. In a time where images are filtered, tinkered with and then used shamelessly to either project our ‘personal brands’ or massage certain political truths it is a message we should be paying close attention to.