In Steven Meyer’s overfamiliar and underwhelming docu “Buried Prayers,” a group of concentration-camp survivors return to the site of their traumatic memories, the Maidanek death camp in German-occupied Poland. They’re accompanied by an international team of archeologists and investigators to dig in fields where Jews hid their valuables en route to the crematorium, yet the hurried search plays less poignantly than intended. Docu’s insistent inflation of buried gold jewelry and watches into symbols of heroic defiance and transcendental tragedy rings hollow in the wake of weightier Holocaust testimonials. Opening Nov. 18 at Gotham’s Quad Cinema, “Prayers” reps a minor historical footnote.
Helmer Meyer never fully brings together his docu’s disparate elements. The past-haunted visit by distraught survivors, as well as the intonation of Kaddish at the site of death, have been more movingly portrayed elsewhere. Little evocative use is made of the strikingly oppressive appearance of Maidanek itself, which stands, virtually intact, as a memorial to atrocity. And the constant hard sell of the importance of the dig makes one suspect that, far from being along for the ride, the documentary crew constitutes the driving force behind the whole enterprise.