For the month of March the Gene Siskel Film Center is hosting the13th Annual European Union Film Festival. There are a lot of Oscar contenders that are being shown and I would highly recommend perusing their listings, which offers close to 60 films. Recently, I was able to catch the 2008 Belgian documentary “Modus Operandi”. Directed by Hugues Lanneau, the film chronicles Belgium’s direct relations with Auschwitz.
Lanneau mixes interviews with grainy footage from the era, some of which had never been shown before. Although the film feels a little long (clocking in at 98 minutes) it is beautifully arranged. I found myself lost in the grain of the film but was often brought back by the numerous amounts of photographs that were filmed while being layered on strings. My description does not do it justice but the confrontation of individual portraits helps aid the statistics of the number of victims from the camps. According the film, 24,916 Jewish people were deported to Auchwitz between the years of 1942 and 1944 from Belgium. An overwhelming 95% of which never returned. As we hear personal statements from people that fled Belgium, we begin to see how the Nazi regime gradually infiltrated the Belgian government (which proved to be rather easy) and used it’s very own authorities to implement their agenda. Their methods are chronologically broken down which helps with the linear flow of the movie.
Throughout the film there are several shots of facades and interiors that have images of documents and footage of soldiers marching projected on them. Immediately I thought of Jenny Holzer’s projections and appreciated Lanneau’s attempt of activating these historical spaces. His careful consideration with framing these shots made them significantly more powerful when in reality they could have easily been gimmicky. Although this film is somewhat on the dry side (I would mainly recommend it to history fans) it separates itself from historical documentaries that are made for television. The combination of well-organized images, captivating subjects, and skillfully framed shots elevates “Modus Operandi” beyond the cold hard facts and allows the viewer to feel a small personal connection to the people that lost their lives in concentration camps. Read more