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A necessity

Is this yet another film on the camps, on the deportation, on the Shoah? Yes and no.

– Yes, because these events are still close to us (only two generations past) and concern tens of millions of people, but we are still far from fully understanding them.

– Yes, because as the witnesses disappear, these events merge with history, and our relationship to them is modified: so we have to explore and take stock of this new relationship.

– Yes, because research has evolved considerably: this film simply could not have been made ten years ago, back when the status of camps’s photographs was different, and where other battles had to be waged.

– No, because this film does not focus, partially or fully, on the concentration camp narrative, and the universe of the Shoah. Its ambition is different; it tells another story, focused on the difficulties of clandestine representation.

– No, because the main subject of this project is the work of the photographers.

– No, because our goal here is to question the status of these photographs in all their dimensions.

– No, because the intent here is to explore the power of the image and its confrontation with a universe which completely negated the possibility of its existence.

This time, and for the first time, we see in the same way the deportees themselves saw, through the images they produced; only through the medium of film can such an endeavour be constructed.

On a human level

This film project roughly started twenty years ago, when I met Boris Taslitzky towards the end of his life. Boris was the Jewish, communist painter who survived Buchenwald, and whose mother was murdered in Auschwitz.

À PAS AVEUGLES (FROM WHERE THEY STOOD), and the research on which it is based, owes everything to the relationships I made with Boris and the other deportees I met afterwards: artists (such as José Fosty, Walter Spitzer, Yehuda Bacon, Schlomo Selinger …), photographers (Georges Angéli), writers (like Jorge Semprun), and all the others, including their families and their children (many who are my parents’s age). They’re the ones who led me to visit the sites of the old camps and consult the organisations dedicated to the collection and conservation of these images.

They also allowed me to meet the curators and historians who work on these topics, in France, Germany, Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, the USA, the UK, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. These meetings, combined with documentary research, allowed me to determine how questions arise about images in times of war, the representation of camps, and the Shoah.

Over the years, I’ve devoted three films to these themes: L'ATELIER DE BORIS (a portrait of Boris Taslitzky), QUAND NOS YEUX SONT FERMÉS (an essay on the clandestine art works produced in Buchenwald and built around a poem by Louis Aragon), and PARCE QUE J’ÉTAIS PEINTRE, as well as a book, Éclats, published by Editions du Seuil in 2019, on the same subject as À PAS AVEUGLES.

Rather than an „investigation”, this film is a quest, staging the effort to bring together images, ruins, stories ... and history.

Therefore, it’s told in the present, with the knowledge that we now have on these events, with a relationship to history that is from my time, my generation, and with our current connection to war images. While À PAS AVEUGLES comes after many similarly-themed films, these films had not addressed the subject of the clandestine representation of deportation.

Sensible knowledge

Seeking to represent a daily life in hell is one of cinema’s greatest challenges, from Abel Gance’s J'ACCUSE (1919), to László Nemes’s more recent SON OF SAUL (2015), or from films as different as Rithy Panh’s S21: THE KHMER ROUGE DEATH MACHINE (2003) and THE MISSING PICTURE (2013), to Jean-Daniel Pollet’s THE ORDER (1973), Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY (1957), Chris Marker’s LA JETÉE (1962), or Armand Gatti’s L’ENCLOS (1961) ...

Obviously, I also have in mind the films of Harun Farocki, IMAGES OF THE WORLD AND THE INSCRIPTION OF WAR (1989) and RESPITE (2007), which inspired me; as well as PASAZERKA (1963), a beautiful unfinished film by Andrezj Munk, and ARCHEOLOGIA – a little-known short film made in Auschwitz in 1967 by Munk’s former assistant Andrzej Brzozowski – which simply associates, in a few shots, the work of the filmmaker with that of the archaeologist. This alliance of cinema and archeology was an important guide for me in this project.

But above all, I cannot forget Alain Resnais’s NUIT ET BROUILLARD(1956), which revealed the stakes linked to images and what remains of the camps. Neither can I forget Claude Lanzmann’s SHOAH (1985), which shows how impossible any effort to represent the Holocaust is (as opposed to forbidding its representation). So skillful is this film, that everyone feels something essential, true, and obvious is at play in the relationship between the sites, the testimonies, the history, and the images, however intellectual those are.

These two films, which stay with me constantly, pay homage to the clandestine photographers who believed in their images’s potential to affirm their existence and that of the victims, beyond simply the necessity for „testimony" or „proof”.

That’s why it was important to me to make a truly cinematic film, making use of materials and sensations. What matters here is not so much telling and/or transmitting testimonies, as much as exploring the remains and weaving together the scattered fragments of a devastated world, so as to better experience its reality and its omnipresence.

It’s a question of space, scale, screen, time, duration, and rhythm, which cinema explores more powerfully than any other medium, by providing us with a more sensitive experience.

It’s a question of viewpoint: on a large screen, you cannot see the edges of the image, which allows you to fully enter the photographs.

And it’s a question of imagination: these clandestine photographs allow us to try and imagine the events that took place.

More than anything, this film allows us to enter the hearts of the victims, their stories, their conscience, and their „fictions", meaning the way they viewed things, when confronted with disaster.

Christophe Cognet

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