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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Photographer of Mauthausen (El Fotógrafo de Mauthausen), with English subtitles, tells the story of the real-life Francesc Boix, a Spanish concentration camp prisoner who was able to thwart his Nazi persecutors and bring evidence of their crimes to light. While the movie has moments of triumph and optimism, for the most part it's a testament to the hideousness of the Nazi regime, its inhumane treatment of multitudes, and its utter rejection of morality and the sanctity of life. On-screen violence and brutality is almost continuous: prisoners are shot, gassed, incinerated, tortured, and beaten. Male nudity is shown in many scenes; men try to cover their private parts, sometimes unsuccessfully. Women are forced into prostitution. Subtitled profanity includes: "f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," "queer," and "whore." Characters smoke; alcohol beverages are present in a few scenes. Both rewarding and heartbreaking, this movie is recommended, but only for mature audiences.
What's the story?
THE PHOTOGRAPHER OF MAUTHAUSEN tells the story of one man's heroic efforts to make the Nazis accountable for their crimes. Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria during WWII, housed an assortment of prisoners, 7,000 of whom were Spain's homegrown rebels who had fought and lost in the war against Spanish dictator Generalissmo Francisco Franco. Designated as "stateless" after their capture, the Spanish prisoners of war sent to Mauthausen were tortured, murdered, beaten, and performed hard labor under the worst of conditions. Francesc Boix (Mario Casas), assigned to work with the camp photographers, was continually repulsed by the inhumanity and tragedy in his midst. Aware that Nazi propaganda depended upon "staged" photographs of the camp's "livable conditions," Francesc saw other photographs taken that depicted the everyday horrors. It was clear to Francesc and his intimates that those other photographs -- of bodies piled high, of naked men in abject fear, of a fellow prisoner hanged -- were destined to be burned as the threat of an Allied victory drew closer. It became Francesc's mission to save the negatives, the only evidence of the true extent of the crimes that had been perpetrated upon the prisoners of Mauthausen.
Is it any good?
Mar Targarona's suspenseful, unrelentingly graphic depiction of the horrors of absolute evil juxtaposed with hope, purpose, and compassion is both searing and heartening. A Spanish production, shot in Hungary, The Photographer of Mauthausen isn't an original concept -- Holocaust movies have told this kind of story before, and well. But this is a masterful production with a singular identity. The cinematography is exceptional; performances are remarkable. Of particular note are the actual photographs smuggled out of Mauthausen, which are shown at the end of the film. Only then does the audience recognize how many of the scenes Ms. Targarona shot replicate the actual moments. It's very powerful -- as is the impact of the whole movie. When the forces of good triumph even in a small way -- and Boix's success, though significant, cannot begin to compensate for the atrocities in the camp -- audiences feel rewarded for the attention they have paid.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in The Photographer of Mauthausen. Do you think the graphic violence, as well as the number of violent scenes, were essential storytelling devices? Why or why not? How did those scenes affect you? Why is it important to be aware of the impact of media violence on kids?
Think about the visual design of the movie. Were you aware that the only time vivid colors were used (with the exception of blood) was for scenes like the "variety" show and the parties at the home of the Nazi leaders? How did such avoidance of color in the camp and its surrounding areas contribute to the mood and harshness of the movie?
The historical fact that Spanish prisoners were among those held in concentration camps isn't often discussed. Other than the Jewish people, find out what other groups were included in Hitler's "final solution" and spent time in the infamous camps.
What is genocide? Why is it critical to be aware of the Nazi extermination of millions of people? Think about current events around the world. Do you think that "Never Again," a declaration widely shared after the war, will ever be a possibility? Why or why not?
- On DVD or streaming: March 22, 2019
- Cast: Mario Casas, Alain Hernandez, Richard van Weyden
- Director: Mar Targarona
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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