KZ opens with shots of a tranquil Austrian package trip. Some white-haired holiday-makers relax on a pleasure cruise along the Danube before strolling around a neat town square and snapping photos of a Hapsburg palace. Finally, they get back on the coach and trundle up a sunny mountain road to Mauthausen's former concentration camp. But should a mass-murder site really be just another stop on a tourist's itinerary?
The film alternates between a guided tour of the camp and an examination of the shadow it casts over the town. We hear from people who have moved in recently, and couldn't be happier with the fresh air, the neighbourly community and the opportunities for "nordic walking".
We hear from long-time residents, whose grandfathers or husbands worked in the camp. One SS widow got married there. "My aunt said it was the most beautiful wedding she ever went to," she remembers. We drop into the bar where the SS used to drink: now a cider tavern where backpackers clink their tankards as folk dancers slap their lederhosen-clad thighs.
The director, Rex Bloomstein, keeps quiet behind the camera, but the question his acute film asks is whether normal life and enjoyment should be banished from the area forever, or whether it's healthier not to dwell on its horrors. And while Bloomstein doesn't judge his interviewees, he obviously has some sympathy with a tour guide, a self-confessed alcoholic and Third Reich obsessive, who's proud of his ability to move visitors to tears, but ashamed of it, too. "We're all sick up here, every single one of us," he says.
In its deceptively calm way, KZ is the year's most fascinating documentary.Reuse content