Elie Wiesel famously and passionately articulated the necessity of Holocaust memorialization: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” But what happens to the dead when commemoration transforms into culture industry? Embracing an austere observational style, Austerlitz patiently watches the throngs of tourists as they amble about Germany’s concentration camps, open once again for a different kind of business. Does the casual banality of couples posing behind selfie sticks and wearing garish T-shirts neutralize the horror that unfolded at these sites? Do the sounds of dinging phones, monotone docents, and chatty visitors shuffling through decaying corridors exorcise the ghosts of the prisoners whose deaths were precision planned? Refusing to fetishize the physical relics of the Holocaust, this reflective film instead invites us to bear witness to the past by scrutinizing the remembrance rituals of the present.
Sergei Loznitsa, Jesse Mazuch