The Photographer of Mauthausen movie review: This WWII drama fritters away compelling true story it's based on

Anupam Kant Verma

Apr 06, 2019 11:45:26 IST


Francesc Boix was a Spanish prisoner at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria during the second World War. A combination of jollity, smarts and photographic skills helped him survive the camp. He discovered photographic evidence of the atrocities conducted on the prisoners by the Nazis and made it his mission to present it before the world. The Photographer of Mauthausen is ostensibly the story of Boix’s resolute attempts to preserve, smuggle out and bring this evidence to light.

It strives to tell the story of a brave witness to a great tragedy. Simultaneously, it seeks to document a dark chapter in modern history. It starts out on a promising note, managing to balance the particular and the general, although in a workmanlike, visibly safe manner. The unconvincing production design doesn’t help. It seems too quickly put together and soft around the edges to immerse the viewer. While the main characters are performed ably, a majority of the extras sleepwalk through the frames.

Director Mar Targarona establishes a curious relationship between Boix and Paul Ricken, the warden of the camp, whose interest in photography makes him take Boix under his wing. The dynamics of their relationship vis-a-vis Boix’s camaraderie with the other prisoners is thereby rendered promising. Although this promise is never truly fulfilled, owing in part to the film’s numerous extended set-pieces and sub-plots, it makes the film momentarily interesting.

The Photographer of Mauthausen movie review: This WWII drama fritters away compelling true story its based on

Still from The Photographer of Mauthausen. Image via Netflix

TPOM truly begins to meander when Boix and friends start trying to smuggle the photographic negatives out of the camp. Boix and the prisoners’ plight take the back-seat as a series of misguided set-pieces scramble to put together the various ways and the many people Boix tries to involve in his mission. It offers the filmmakers ample opportunities to showcase the many faces of the Nazi’s hate-based violence. But their insubstantial, opportunistic nature results in emotional vacancy and narrative vagrancy.

The colossal scale of the tragedy that took place at the concentration camps can overwhelm any artistic effort that strives to engage with it. Targarona’s title for the film promises a singular story of courage that underscores the importance of being an active witness to crimes. But its rapid and frequent detours from the main narrative into the false warmth of genre — all the more egregious when dealing with this subject — belies its purpose. The creators undertake this while maintaining an otherwise strictly workmanlike approach, more often than not resulting in a flat and mute film.

TPOM’s major achievement lies in documenting a period in Spanish history that’s received shorter shrift. The thousands of Spaniards thrown into Mauthausen had their nationality taken away by the fascist Franco regime back home. They were orphans of the bloody civil war that ripped their land apart. After all they’d done for the freedom of their countrymen, they had nowhere to go and no place to call home.

Hence Mario Casas’ Boix becomes a window into a dark period that forces a country to confront its shadowy past. Boix is dedicated to the truth. To presenting the reality that he witnessed as thousands of his countrymen were treated like lesser human beings on a daily basis. He boldly challenges Ricken’s ambiguous view of reality in his exchanges with him, a strand which Targarona would have been better off pursuing with more vigour. Boix is the moral centre of the film. He valiantly fights for the truth while looking for the most effective way to preserving it in the most hostile of environments.

Unfortunately, poorly written side-characters and a string of uninspired directorial decisions wean away from the promise of the film. TPOM ends up as an emotionally vacant film that loses focus midway and fails to get back on track. Boix’s diligent, brave and resolute attempts to preserve lives and the evidence form the back bone of the film. His perseverance in the face of inhumanity and endless despair is the sole bulwark against the mediocrity of the film.

Rating: ★★ and 1/2

The Photographer of Mauthausen is currently streaming on Netflix. watch the trailer here:

Updated Date: Apr 06, 2019 11:45:26 IST

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