MAUTHAUSEN – TWO LIVES

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by Simon Wieland

grade: 7.5

In spite of the dramatic nature of what is depicted, in spite of the evident signs of suffering on the faces and in the eyes of the protagonists, Mauthausen – Two Lives is mainly distinguished by a certain lyricism.

Different but alike

Time, you know, heals all wounds. Or maybe not? There are wounds that, in fact, will probably never heal. These are the wounds of those who, in the past, experienced such traumatic events which, even over the years, remain alive and pulsating. This is the case, for example, of Stanislaw Leszczyński (from Lodz, Poland) and Franz Hackl, born in Mauthausen. What do these two people have in common? Both of them, in the past, experienced at first hand, in one way or another, the ugliness of Holocaust. They are thus the protagonists of the documentary Mauthausen – Two Lives, directed by Simon Wieland in 2020 and presented to the public by the Forum Austriaco di Cultura Roma, on the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021.

When Stanislaw was a boy, he was deported with his family to the Mauthausen concentration camp. Franz, on the other hand, was initially a member of the Hitler Youth, but soon realised what the Nazi dictatorship was doing. The stories of the two (and their different points of view), together with archive photographs and old footage, take us on a long and painful journey into the past, back to the time of one of the most terrible wars of the last century.

Mauthausen – Two Lives, then, leaves the word exclusively to the two protagonists, letting them confide in front of the camera, in an intimate and almost contemplative atmosphere. Filmed partly inside the concentration camp itself, partly in the home of the two men, the documentary is characterised by a mise-en-scène made up of empty spaces, in which – except for the two protagonists – there seems to be no sign of the presence of human beings. An emptiness, this one, which inevitably conveys a strong sense of agoraphobia and which, contextualised according to what is being told, makes us feel, from time to time, lost, frightened, shocked.

The past, here, comes more alive than ever. And this is further emphasised by the frequent switches from black and white to colour. As if the passage of time has not changed things at all. As if there were no possibility of forgetting what has been. The director, for his part, seems practically invisible in front of the camera. He immediately becomes the intimate confidant for the two men. It is therefore up to them to hold the entire documentary on their shoulders. It is up to their stories to make us experience what they experienced. So that we will not forget.

In spite of the dramatic nature of what is being depicted, in spite of the obvious signs of suffering on the faces and in the eyes of the protagonists, Mauthausen – Two Lives is mainly distinguished by a certain lyricism. A lyricism that is reflected in the calm and highly contemplative mood of the film and in the director’s decision to avoid any virtuosity, which would otherwise only distract the audience from the focus of the discourse.

A lyricism, by the way, that also reflects the resigned serenity and the strong, strong will to go on of the two protagonists. The past is and always will be present. In the meantime, only love, beauty and art can save us. Just as does, at the end of the documentary, the tender melody – which reminds us so much of a lullaby – played by Stanislaw with his zither.

Original title: Mauthausen – Zwei Leben
Directed by: Simon Wieland
Country/year: Austria / 2020
Running time: 70’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Simon Wieland, Andreas Kuba
Cinematography: Simon Wieland
Produced by: Simon Wieland Film

Info: the page of Mauthausen – Two Lives on the website of SImon Wieland; the page of Mauthausen – Two Lives on the website of the Austrian Film Commission