Austerlitz Screen 94 of 18 reviews

Austerlitz

2016

Austerlitz Poster
  • It is truly remarkable how a static camera can capture people randomly arranging themselves in very artful compositions. A bridge over a closed-up half-square is empty as a lone figure positions herself in front of the sealed opening to listen to the explanation of what she is seeing on the handset... She must stand in place until it is finished as the bridge fills up with tourists moving in either direction. We, then, are the observers of a pure abstraction of disquieting beauty.

  • For Loznitsa, following the spirit of W.G. Sebald’s eponymous novel, Austerlitz, is above all about time’s work—how it erodes everything. It is, by the way, quite interesting to compare Sebald’s semantics with those of Loznitsa here: how the very long takes are structured into subsets through the groups and individuals appearing in and leaving the frame again, and also how from these first very basic shots, the cinematographic language becomes ever more complex.

  • For all the randomness of the passing crowds, there is nothing random about Loznitsa’s compositions, with shots often riding out the visual ambiguity of once-harmful architecture, the interplay of sentience and matter reinforcing their mutual exclusion, the stillness of the camera tethered to the dormant threat of harm’s instrumentation. The shot of an empty tiled table is overwhelmingly loaded with the conjecture of pain, and as such is difficult to countenance.

  • It transcends the aforementioned documentary categories. Its masterfully measured and unusual form is inextricable from its urgent sense of insight into the troubled heart of post-war Europe and the ghosts the globe now only fitfully recalls – making it a highly deserving winner of the international competition’s Golden Dove award.

  • ++

    Sight & Sound: Jordan Cronk
    November 04, 2016 | Toronto | December 2016 Issue (p. 55)

    What Loznitsa's camera captures isn't moments of sober reflection, but instead disinterested glances, nervous laughter, family photo ops, and errant selfies. Watching such egregious, disconcertingly familiar activity unfold on screen among a general audience only amplifies the film's reflexive power.

  • Where Serra’s immersive Singularity suggests an early cinema experiment like the 360-degree Cinéorama that bowed at the 1900 Paris Exposition, the unutterably complex simplicity of Sergei Loznitsa’s Austerlitz is at times close to the Lumières—call it Vacationers Entering the Death Factory... What Loznitsa is doing is leading us into a double-bind of incomprehension—for in scrutinizing these visitors trying to understand the incomprehensible, we are doing much the same thing.

  • So basic in the telling, Austerlitz is a film that in many ways exemplifies the critical theory of Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. What is the net effect for humanity when, faced with the drive to remember the unfathomable, we employ the grossly inadequate tools at our disposal? ... It's about the disconnection between the greatest horror of the 20th century and our inability to adequately convey it to the 21st.

  • Concentration-camp tourism understandably dismays the sober director of My Joy, yet there’s a mordant edge to his unbroken views of visitors, including teeming long-shots that resemble Jacques Tati frames... Rigorously balancing the dangers of historical amnesia with the variegated revelations of people-watching, it suggests an unlikely collaboration between Claude Lanzmann and José Luis Guerín.

  • Like so many patient, observational documentaries of its kind, the movie continually inspires at least two different, not always conflicting impulses: The temptation to get lost in the image is overwhelming, even as your attention is continually being refreshed and stimulated by the flood of tourists passing before the camera.

  • A disconnect is silently but scorchingly addressed in Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’s ingeniously simple, mesmerising documentary — a vital entry in the growing chapter of cinema evaluating the Holocaust’s present-day legacy.

  • As we gradually get to eavesdrop on the remarkably trenchant tour guides who fill in the grim historical background – with the microphones picking up camera bleeps and passing phrases from somewhere within the range of each deep-focus shot – we can see that the place does have a sombre, sobering emotional effect on many... What one collects by the end is a rounded portrait of humanity, and, somehow, one of hope, despite the ghastliness of human crimes and the need to revisit them.

  • With Austerlitz, Loznitsa may have produced his finest film yet. Exhibiting a simplicity and intellectual acuity that is far too rare in the field of documentary, Loznitsa has created a film whose cumulative impact will stay with you long after you watch it, tinting and shading the way that you experience a multitude of previously ordinary cultural practices.

  • Loznitsa offers a sobering vision of how even a World War Two concentration camp can essentially become a theme park, leaving the realities of history and suffering obscured rather than available for understanding. This fascinating but demanding slow burner could equally find a place in serious TV arts slots and on the gallery circuit.

  • Human tones, bird cries, church bells, the rising and falling wind, insectoid whirrings, unidentifiable creakings and crashings... all combine into an immersive, often chilling and always compelling world of sound, which manages to subtly convey the lurking horrors beneath Sachsenhausen's mute, neutral surfaces. We are, to use a phrase from the Sebald novel, "like a deaf man whose hearing has been miraculously restored."

  • Perhaps Loznitsa’s restrained sobriety won’t be to the tastes of viewers who desire a slightly more forceful directorial voice in their filmmaking. Yet it is precisely the director’s economy and calm before this loaded historical subject that makes Austerlitz all the more powerful, allowing the vagaries of past and present to unfurl fugue-like in counterpoint before our eyes. It is a worthy addition to a body of work that has continued to trace the contours of loss, memory and history.

  • How do you frame death, or the present absence, in concentration camps? Should a director make his shots aesthetically pleasing in such a context while at the same time pointing to the malady of contemporary society to simply take nice pictures at a place of death? It’s something that I haven’t come across yet in reviews of the film, and it might be worth looking at the film from this angle, i.e. from the possible implication of the director in what his film seems to criticise.

  • Eventually I found the sheer sameness of kind of people and of their behavior repetitive, hardly surprised by the sameness in demeanor, look and attitude of the camp’s visitors. The camera eventually seemed as blasé as they were, which in its own way was quite chilling.

  • It helps that the film is immaculate crafted and perversely non-commercial: with its long, long shots and sparse dialogue, this is a film that can’t be easily flipped and sold for a tidy profit in the vein of numerous putatively “powerful” Holocaust docs that do all the moral calculus for audiences via talking heads and archival footage. Austerlitz‘s people-watching pleasures are complicated but don’t resolve in any one direction.

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