Film Inquiry: Auschwitz and Cinema’s Depiction of the Holocaust

Auschwitz Birkenau II

‘My visit to Auschwitz was more uncanny than overwhelming’

‘I had read that it was an ‘overwhelming’ experience, and I suppose that is an accurate description, however my reaction to this overwhelment wasn’t an emotional breakdown but rather a numb detachment that was punctuated by an occasional portent feeling and this nervous unease that put the hairs on the back of my neck on end. I’d get this latter sensation when I peeked into the windows of locked barracks; in most instances the rooms were dark, dusty and dilapidated, yet having some knowledge of what happened in these nondescript old wrecks made me feel somewhat spooked as if some tortured soul’s face was suddenly going to appear in the shadows.’

Please read the whole article on my visit to Auschwitz and a discussion of cinema’s depiction of the Holocaust at Film Inquiry – filminquiry.com/auschwitz-cinemas-depiction-holocaust/

Baraka (1992)

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I can’t see how someone couldn’t like this film.

A bold statement certainly, however Baraka has an immense beauty that is surely universal in appeal. It is a documentary that’s without  narrative or narration, it captures a veritable plethora of imagery that reminds us that Earth is indeed a baraka, which is Arabic and Hebrew for ‘blessing’.

Any attempt to derive meaning or identify connection becomes merely incidental as you’re presented with the hypnotic scenery that Ron Fricke and his team have captured; it must have been difficult for them to cut their glorious footage down to 97 minutes. The film traverses verdant jungles, epic mountain ranges, sweeping temple complexes, arid deserts,  imposing cityscapes and haunting landmarks of evil such as Auschwitz and the Cambodian S-21 prison. Its human subjects are of all colours and creeds, with much of the film focusing on those who are less fortunate and sometimes utterly destitute. It is a sensational and occasionally disturbing cross-section of the planet’s landscapes, cultures and history.

The stunning wide shots and time lapses are scored with heady ambient music by Michael Stearns. His music is a cacophony of tribal chants, chimes and drums that’s vital in creating Baraka’s truly sensory immersion. My favourite piece is Baraka Theme, its broad, sonorous notes create a vast scope that perfectly accompanies the boundless panoramas.

There are so many moments I could talk about, I could throw effusive adjectives at almost every frame, however I feel mere words can’t do it justice. Baraka is a purely cinematic experience that’s somewhat futile to describe.

However, one memorable sequence I will mention is the factory processing of chicks that’s interspersed with the frenetic pace of Tokyo railway commuters; it is fascinating and ultimately quite unpleasant as the birds’ destiny in battery cages is revealed after having their beaks burnt. The camera offers insights into an array of factories, showcasing their subjects’ perfectly rehearsed skills in computer hardware assembly, textiles and poultry.

It is a film that demands to be shown on good equipment, a film that serves as a benchmark for one’s TV or projector. Apparently, it was the first film to receive an 8K transfer, what an awesome experience that must be, most likely better than real life!

When Baraka sadly finishes, you eventually move your eyes away from the screen for the first time in 97 minutes and realise that you’ve been dead still the whole time as you check your watch, surprised to see that many hours haven’t passed. It is a triumph that the moving image alone can achieve such engrossment.

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Life is Beautiful (1997)

Life is Beautiful

It’s ultimately a rather exploitative tear-jerker

I entered ‘Life Is Beautiful’ not really knowing what to expect; I certainly didn’t anticipate a part slapstick comedy. The film charts Guido’s (Roberto Benigni) romantic pursuit of Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), their married life, the birth of their son, and finally their removal from Italy into an extermination camp by the Nazis. The initial phase of the story is quite pleasant and sometimes funny, it has numerous running gags all concerning Guido, most of which he uses spontaneously to impress and bemuse his love interest Dora.

Guido is an affable, happy-go-lucky character, his spontaneous charm works well overall, especially in a scene where he manipulates an important guest’s choice of dinner and in another where he comically translates a rather ominous looking Nazi. However, he can become exhausting, and he also becomes somewhat brash considering his surroundings in the latter half of the film.

This brings me on to the depiction of the Holocaust. Guido’s escapades within the camp are completely implausible and rather stupid, he sneaks around being his effervescent self whilst it is clear that in reality he would’ve been shot on sight almost immediately. The film doesn’t offer hope because of its sheer implausibility, all it achieves really is trivialising the Holocaust. This film is rather like the term ‘Ethnic Cleansing’, it doesn’t work because it’s impossible and perhaps insulting to try and euphemise genocide.

I’m not sure who the film’s target audience is. Is it a children’s film? That is one of the few ways I could perhaps see it working, as a method of introducing a young mind to the holocaust. But there is a problem with this, too, the film doesn’t even begin to offer an insight into the haunting evil of the holocaust. Instead, the audience gets a completely maudlin tale of ‘spirit’ and ‘hope’ that, with very little veracity, exploits one of humanity’s greatest evils for the sake of saccharine pathos.

Judging from others’ opinions, I think this film will bode well with the overly sentimental who enjoy crying and disregard credibility.

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