'Three Days in Auschwitz': Film Review

Courtesy of Lise Romanoff/Vision Films
Eric Clapton's haunting musical score is the most compelling element of this self-indulgent cinematic exercise.

Philippe Mora's highly personal documentary recounts his family's experiences during the Holocaust.

A tangible personal quality permeates Philippe Mora's documentary about the notorious Nazi concentration camp. Described in an intertitle as "Cinematic Notes for My Grandchildren," Three Days in Auschwitz resembles a loose assemblage of home-movie footage rather than a coherent examination of its admittedly daunting subject. While the film strikes some powerful emotional chords and benefits greatly from its musical score by Eric Clapton, it's a minor addition to the vast canon of Holocaust-themed documentaries.

Mora, who's directed both acclaimed documentaries (Brother Can You Spare a Dime) and such B-movie genre fare as two Howling sequels, has taken a casual approach with this effort that runs under an hour. The title refers to three visits to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp he took over a period of several years, but since filming was not permitted on the site, any sense of the location is negligible.

The filmmaker's ties to the subject matter are deeply close. His mother (seen in numerous interview segments throughout) narrowly escaped being sent to Auschwitz by merely one day; his father was a French resistance fighter; and eight family members were killed in the camp. But this cursory cinematic excursion — which also chronicles Mora's visits to various memorials and museums in Berlin, Melbourne and London, including the Imperial War Museum (where, again, filming was not permitted) — is too slight to have any substantial impact.

The documentary also includes copious samples of Mora's many paintings about the Nazi era and its atrocities, which recall the works of George Grosz. But while the filmmaker is not without artistic talent, their inclusion sometimes makes the proceedings feel like an elaborate gallery display.

The film has resonant moments, particularly when Mora, describing his enthusiastic phone call to his father after spending a day interviewing Albert Speer, relates that his father's response was to ask, "Did you kill him?" Similarly, Clapton's mournful guitar score, while perhaps too understated, provides haunting musical atmosphere.

But despite such assets, Three Days in Auschwitz seems to have little purpose other than fulfilling its self-professed goal of being a cinematic family remembrance.

Production: Dripping Paint Pictures, Really Homemade Pictures
Distributor: Vision Films
Director/screenwriter: Philippe Mora
Producers: Philippe Mora, Eric Clapton, Pamela Krause Mora
Directors of photography: Harald Grosskopf, Alex Lasheras, Alexandra Nichols, Bruno Pheasantry
Editors: Nebiyu Dingetu, Kristina Ivanova, Philippe Mora, Jesse Oquist

Composers: Eric Clapton, Harald Grosskopf
Not rated, 55 minutes

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