A solemn, meticulous and borderline soporific piece of detective work, first-person docu “No Pasaran, Souvenir Album” takes an inherently fascinating and historically important set of clues and slows them to a pace that even snails might object to. Attracted to a few numbered postcards in his great-grandparents’ photo album, documaker Henri-Francois Imbert spent over 10 years trying to track down the missing images in the set. In the process, via doggedness and serendipity, he assembles the story of half a million refugees who fled Spain for France after Barcelona fell to Franco in February 1939. Condensed to half an hour, the same material could probably fly for tube slots. French theatrical release is slated for autumn.
Ultra-methodical voice-over narration accompanies long examinations of the postcards, which gradually reveal that Spanish Republicans seeking asylum in France were put in refugee internment camps — called concentration camps well before the horrors of WWII demonized the term. Imbert establishes that many of these hapless freedom fighters ended up in German camps, including Maulthausen where precisely 6,502 of the dead, out of the nearly 123,000 tallied by the Nazis, were “Spanish Republicans.”
Brief interviews with two elderly survivors of the original exodus reveal little. Imbert visits the contempo French refugee facility at Sangatte, where internees intent on sneaking through the Channel Tunnel to England think the refugee facilities circa 1939 looked better than the current variation.