Director: Philippe Mora
Starring: Mirka Mora, Philippe Mora
It goes without saying that the Holocaust is one of the most horrifying and regrettable events in human history. Because of this, those who study the tragedy have a huge priority: making sure that humanity never forgets, lest (god forbid) history should repeat itself. One of the ways that this goal is realized is by the retelling of the event – through survivors, fictional adaptations, and as Philippe Mora attempts, documentaries. In 1985, Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah brought people to tears (those who where able to sit through the lengthy 570 minute documentary) by relying completely on interviews and visits to German Holocaust sites in Poland. You could say that this type of content is similar to what Mora attempts in Three Days in Auschwitz…except his documentary consists of one interviewee, three visits with minimal footage, and testimonials from one man.
As Mora explains multiple times in the film, his mother was fortunate enough to avoid Auschwitz by one day…although several people, myself included, would not feel that this makes her a Holocaust survivor. This knowledge inspires Mora to make three visits to Auschwitz over the course of several years.
While Mora’s documentary is noble in cause, it’s sorely lacking in execution. Overall, the film is horribly unfocused – one third is spent with Mora actually speaking, another third is spent showing Mora’s drawings inspired by the Holocaust, and the time that’s left is spent showing limited footage from outside of Auschwitz (often times taken by a camera that is simply begging to be put onto a tripod.)
Nothing is particularly hard-hitting about the documentary at all. It’s absurd that the film is supposed to document Mora’s three trips to the camp, but there is no footage of it because filming is prohibited. I’m sure that this problem could have been tackled if Mora had bothered to obtain a location permit, and the fact that Mora failed to do so reveals the unprofessionalism behind the making of this film. On top of this, there’s a lacking of content on more than just the visual front. The only talking heads who provide information in the film are Mora and his mother. Good documentaries almost always have main characters, which in this case would be Mora and his mother, and secondary characters to provide additional information. The latter is nonexistent in Three Days in Auschwitz, which gives the film unsteady material to stand on. While Philippe does attempt to act as his own expert in providing background information about the Holocaust, the fact that he is a main character does not afford him the credibility he would have had by including knowledgeable professionals as secondary characters.
In addition, Mora fails to connect his interviews and other footage in a meaningful way. Although the documentary is meant to be divided into three parts to mirror each day that Mora spends in Auschwitz, there’s nothing that streamlines these parts and no overall message. The bottom line is that the structure and organization of the documentary need work.
There have been hundreds of books, feature films, and documentaries crafted about the Holocaust. Some, like Schindler’s List or more recently, Son of Saul, have made a deep impact on their audiences. This is not the case with Three Days in Auschwitz. Ultimately, this film is a distracted documentary that offers no new wisdom its content matter and is not worth the watch.