‘The Photographer of Mauthausen” Directed by Mar Targarona

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(photo source The New York Times)

The horrors of World War II, particularly those of the Holocaust, have provided source material for many films. But these films must be done right to show the sadism  of the Nazi regime and to ensure that these events never happen again. ‘The Photographer of Mauthausen’ does this but it fails to pull as much of a punch as a movie like Schindler’s List.

‘The Photographer of Mauthausen” is a Spanish film directed by Mar Targarona. It tells the story of the Spanish prisoners housed in the Nazi concentration camp in Austria, where over 7,000 Spaniards suffered. Many of them were Spanish volunteers fighting for the French or Republican refugees fleeing the Spanish Civil War.

The movie focuses on the exploits of Francisco Boix (Mario Casas), a talented photographer who served as an assistant to SS Hauptscharführer, Paul Riken (Richard van Weyden).

“I did not want to hit anyone nor be hit. My only choice was being out of the picture,” Riken told Boix. “Reality doesn’t exist, Franz. It all depends on the point of view.”

The movie does well to disprove this notion, showing scenes of brutality that the prisoners at Mauthausen faced every day. Under an overcast sky we see inmates forced to carry blocks of stone on their backs up a lengthy flight of stairs known as the stairs of death.

Inmates are ordered by SS officers to throw a prisoner’s dead corpse on a wire fence. As defeat of the Nazis becomes apparent, Boix is ordered to destroy the photographs he taken during the war. Boix and his fellow prisoners decide instead to protect the photos as evidence and much of the movie is dedicated to their coordinated efforts to smuggle the photos out of camp.

The most chilling scenes in ‘The Photographer of Mauthausen” are scenes of normality mixed with horror.

Mar Targarona does a good job at depicting the Nazi’s  savagery as well as their humanity, often in the same scene. The Spaniards perform a play for bored-looking SS officers while at the same time a prison guard walks one of the performers through the camp conversing with him causally under the cover of night, then nonchalantly pushing him off a cliff.

In another scene the high-ranking SS officer Franz Ziereis (Stefan Weinert) is having a birthday party for his young son in his luxurious home with Beethoven playing in the background. The scene turns ugly as Ziereis encourages his son to fire upon a waiter when he said, “With confidence, without fear.”

The boy’s hands shake as he breathes heavily.

“Shoot!” his father yelled. Ziereis eventually loses his temper and rips the pistol from the boy’s hand and fires the pistol at a different servant.

‘The Photographer of Mauthausen’ depicts its subject matter in the way it should. It shows the horrors of the concentration camps and the Nazi ideology. Mario Casas and Richard van Weyden give moving performances. It’s problem though is that it sometimes lacks a heart.

Horror mixed with normality is one the film’s strengths, but this prevents the film from having an emotional backbone. However, ‘The Photographer of Mauthausen’ presents a relatively unknown aspect of World War II, and the ending when the Spaniards raise the tricolors of the Spanish Republic above Mauthausen as the Allies liberate the camp makes the film worth a watch.