Committed Brit docu-helmer Rex Bloomstein continues his career long engagement with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in “KZ,” a low-key but increasingly disturbing portrait of contempo guides and visitors at the Nazi concentration camp Mauthausen, and villagers in the Austrian town. Unadorned by voiceover, archive footage or other contextualizing material, pic focuses simply on the reactions of visitors learning about the horrors for first time, guides who recount the horrors everyday, and locals who saw the horrors first hand years ago. Strong subject and unfussy execution should gain pic wide currency on fest circuit before eventual airings on upmarket TV.
Docu opens with shots of tourist hordes traveling via boat, coach or foot around the postcard-pretty environs of Mauthausen as tour guides relate the history of the SS camp (a “Konzentrationslager” or colloquially “KZ” in German), which originally functioned as a men-only forced labor camp, mostly for political prisoners, homosexuals and other “undesirables.” Later, near the end of WWII, the camp was used for the extermination of thousands of Jews of both sexes.
A cutaway shows a cheery, apple-cheeked matron dressed in an Alpine dirndl explaining how, despite invasions over the years, Mauthausen’s indigenous residents have maintained an indomitable spirit. Locals talk up burg’s community spirit, and freedom to pursue hiking, bike-riding and rollerblading.
At the camp, assorted guides (unnamed by subtitles) recount its harrowing history in various languages to their respective groups, each in a slightly different way. Camera focuses primarily on reactions of visitors, especially flocks of Yanks and German-speaking high school kids whose school outing giggles swiftly evaporate as they learn of the atrocities. Older visitors from around the world reveal straight to the camera the various reasons they chose to visit, ranging from simple tourist’s curiosity to deeper religious feelings.
Although never strident, crafty juxtaposition of various subjects interviewed points out the very different ways people absorb and cope with the knowledge of what went on at Mauthausen and other camps. One likeable, German-speaking guide reveals that he is now obsessed with Holocaust history, and has become an alcoholic because of his job.
Various town elders casually recall how during the war they saw people being shot in the streets and could smell the burning corpses from the camp, but still insist they and their families didn’t really know what was going on.
In one bizarre scene at a local beer garden where the SS officers used to drink booze after a hard day’s killing, a folk singer sings a jaunty drinking song about the great beer garden where the landlord cooks up delicious sausages, “just by KZ Mauthausen.” Near the end, a guide points out to his charges where someone has recently carved a swastika into the wall of the showers where people were gassed, reinforcing Bloomstein’s point about the persistence of anti-Semitism which he made forcefully in his other docus such as “The Longest Hatred.”
Tech package is pro, and although seemingly shot on DV, could look classy if transferred to 35mm. Overlapping sound subtly knits together disparate scenes to impressive fluency and narrative flow.