Black-and-white static camera setups of tourists browsing a former concentration camp. Some are on organized tours, some use personal listening devices, and some are just reading the signs. Lots of photos, some selfie sticks, some chatty groups and solo lingering. I won’t catalog all the terrible t-shirts people wear to the site, since someone on Letterboxd has already done that. At first I thought “these people are simply awful,” but they’re not – it’s just that those few bad t-shirts stand out, and it’s not clear why they so badly want photos of each other in front of the “arbeit macht frei” sign, but at least they’ve made the effort to come to this place and maybe learn about history instead of getting drunk at the beach. Anyway, the movie is exactly as simple as I’d heard, while the thoughts it provoked were much more conflicted than I expected.
I was in a strange mood one night during Cannes Month, and thus became the first person to ever double-feature Austerlitz with Death Proof. This didn’t actually play Cannes, but Death Proof did, because life is strange.
Exhibiting a simplicity and intellectual acuity that is far too rare in the field of documentary, Loznitsa has created a film whose cumulative impact will stay with you long after you watch it, tinting and shading the way that you experience a multitude of previously ordinary cultural practices … Austerlitz is about the disconnection between the greatest horror of the 20th century and our inability to adequately convey it to the 21st. Loznitsa captures this tragedy in the form of a young dude bopping through the gates of Sachsenhausen, his t-shirt emblazoned with last year’s meme: “COOL STORY BRO.”
The deep-focus photography of DP Jesse Mazuch accentuates the choreographic shuffle of the crowds en masse, their collective amble posing an unsavoury contrast to the bodies once confined here. The connotation is that grief has been repressed or is altogether absent, the free bodies hemmed in by social etiquette but not too hard put-upon by the gravity of the place. It’s hard to tell if this is the look of an aggregate vigil, several generations removed, or that of an amnesiac drift.