“I’m past anger. I’m … I’m a little overwhelmed by the horror.”
May 3, 2021 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Colette is a 25 minute documentary by Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard about a visit made by 90-year-old Colette Marin-Catherine, to the Nordhausen concentration camp where her brother died. They were both members of the Resistance. She is accompanied by 17-year-old history student Lucie Fouble. The film won the Oscar for best documentary short this year.
posted by Kattullus (12 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
The holocaust as a historical subject matter is likely the most difficult era to write about concerning critical thinking. Colette is my new hero. I paused at 13:20, the fade...from the restaurant, yeah. She is so...Frank, to paraphrase; were you and brother close." No, not at all" and that look more like composure is amazing as is her reason to go to Nordhausen. The restaurant is something else. I'll be frank about Herr mayors proclamations, welcome and apologistic hand wringing all-in-one buffet left me wanting to scream, I did. It went from tolerance to, No in no time and rightly so, guess it's a reason I love French history.
posted by clavdivs at 3:35 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

Waypoint (aka Games by Vice) had a really good take on this by Rob Zacny. Zacny gets at the uneasy alliance between the film and its subject, as well as the strangeness of how it was produced.

(It got covered by their gaming vertical because the film actually originated as a promotional work for one of the entries in the Medal of Honor video game series)
posted by firechicago at 4:43 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]

"...about every aspect of this project, so doubtful that any of the well-meaning people around her can ever fully understand her experiences much less communicate them to others through museum exhibits or documentaries, that film becomes a kind of challenge from Colette to everyone around her: what is the actual point of performing these acts of remembrance, of recording history? "
Rob Zacney is apt in the observation above. I got this sence. The only denominator I can, besides what was stated is that no one, as far as I've seen, from Colettes' generation are involved. Hard to place a exact finger on it...lack of common memories. for example I would go to P.O.W. events with my uncle. Guests are allowed but they all were like 'whats the kid doing here' but my uncle would vouche, still news folk and historians are fine but 'better get it right' like
attitude prevails. Listening is best. The shared experiences of that generation is close knit and is vast. I've come away with it is as important to save the world and all that entailed, as how those folks lived there lives from then to now.
posted by clavdivs at 6:05 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]

The key moment for me was when she gave the ring to Lucie. This is history is real for her for another 90 years.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:45 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]

"When it's your turn to go to war, you won't have time to feel anything."
posted by atchafalaya at 6:55 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]

The detail in the Vice piece about what he was specifically arrested for is unmissable.
posted by progosk at 12:49 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]

This is such a very odd and confusing documentary. After two days of thinking about it, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. The context in the Rob Zacny analysis (posted above) helps.
posted by bluesky43 at 9:18 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this post! Everything in her world turned on small/mundane things: writing the registration numbers of Nazi trucks and (per the Vice article) creating small wreathes to commemorate fallen Resistance fighters. These small things played important roles in wildly different ways. Her skepticism of the world and the act of remembering (when she has been trying to forget) seem grounded by the facts of her life. I appreciate her candor and not allowing her or her brother's life to be co-opted into a larger, mainstream narrative. A really well done and thought provoking piece.
posted by zerobyproxy at 9:20 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]

One of the things I found fascinating when studying Germany's Nazi period was how frequently tiny mundane things or complete random strokes of luck turned out to make the difference in someone surviving or not.

I talked to my grandmother about her experiences living in Hamburg during that time. Her father, who had died well before the Nazis came to power, was Jewish, which meant she was considered half-Jewish. That meant that her brief romance with a U-boat officer was a crime ("race shame"). The affair ended (my impression was that it ended naturally, not because of the laws), but at a certain point the Gestapo came calling and interrogated her about it. She denied everything and never heard from them again, though she expected them to come back and likely arrest her.

She found out after the war that a bureaucrat in the Gestapo offices was someone from the small town where she was born and lived as a child before moving to Hamburg. He remembered her, and every time her file came back to the top of the stack of reports to investigate, he would put it back on the bottom.

It's very possible that saved her life, and equally possible that others died - or died earlier than they might have - because they were moved up the stack when she was moved down.

It's tough to know how to think about things like that, the utterly arbitrary and mundane aspect of the incredible horror of the whole period. There are so, so many of them. And too often we hear the story from the person who benefited - like my grandmother - and it's important to remember the people on the other side of the coin. Or at least remember that they existed and had every bit as much right to survive as the people who were luckier than them, even if we can never know exactly who they were.
posted by nickmark at 12:06 PM on May 4 [10 favorites]

It's such a short film but it conveys so much. She's 90 but has never traveled to Germany even though its not far away at all. Her reaction to the mayor's speech at the restaurant. She's tried so hard to forget about the war and what happened to her brother but it's there just beneath the surface. I hope her journey to the concentration camp was helpful to her.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:08 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]

He remembered her, and

Perhaps this distills what may be happened(ing). Memory and History at odds seemingly from the original subject matter. Colettes' decision to go to Nordhausen. Her reasons are clear even if not conveyed clearly because it's not a clear decision to make. Her memory is clear but history tends to get in the way. The film, the rational for documentation, the Mayor, the viewer, it seems all have a stake, a say, a view as if we take our intention and focus it without realizing the possibility of distraction it will create... and, at times, one scarcely knows what to do.
posted by clavdivs at 8:33 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]

I have read a lot about WWII and the Holocaust, and Nazi terror, but one book I just could not make it through was A Life In Secrets . It's about Vera Atkins, who recruited and helped train many of the young women who became SOE agents and who were parachuted into France to liase with Resistance groups, and, especially, about her efforts after the war to discover the fate of every missing agent, and, if possible, determine if any had survived. And again and again, the answer was betrayal, arrest, torture, deportation, execution. It was just grim and relentless. What Colette and her brother did was very courageous and very very dangerous.
posted by thelonius at 12:24 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]

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