Polish Cinema: Photographer (Dariusz Jablonski, 1998, Poland/France/Germany)

    Dariusz Jablonski’s Photographer (Fotoamator) is a compelling documentary exploring the history of the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland during World War II. The film is primarily composed of still color photographs of the ghetto taken by the ghetto’s accountant, Walter Genewain. Genewain made the photos at the time with a camera confiscated from one of the ghetto residents. The photos went undiscovered until the 1980s.
    Genewain’s photos are remarkable in the calmness and normality of life they capture. They seem to reflect Genewain’s own perspective of his activities in the war. In his written correspondence - and there is much of it in the film - he is careful to distinguish the ghetto from a concentration camp. He records the details and records of the camp - the amount of clothes produced, for example - in clinical fashion. Incidents such as the murder of a Jewish resident for stealing food out of starvation are conveyed with detachment. Genewain represents the countless German bureaucrats of this era, who in their career focus enabled the Nazi machinery of death to take place.
    The other voice in the film is that of Arnold Mostowicz, a Jewish doctor who served within the ghetto. Mostowicz’s impassioned, vivid, and emotional testimony is in stark contrast to Genewain’s photographs, and betrays the horrific truth underlying them. In his testimony, Mostowicz notes that the denial Genewain expressed was even common among Jews in the ghetto. In one deeply unsetting passage, he recalls how he was forced to select who would live and who would die among the ghetto inhabitants. 
    Jablonski makes several interesting stylistic choices throughout the documentary, choosing to photograph Mostowicz in highly stylized black and white, as well as modern-day Lodz. He does this in contrast to the color photographs. This contrast enlivens the documentary, which is mainly composed of spoken text and photographs.

8/10

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