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  Josep Somewhere In Camp
Year: 2020
Director: Aurel
Stars: Sergi López, Emmanuel Votero, Xavier Serrano, David Marsais, Valerie Lemercier, Thomas Vandenberghe, Gerard Hernandez, Bruno Solo, Francois Morel, Alain Cauchi, Silvia Perez Cruz, Alba Pujol, Sophia Aram
Genre: Animated, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Early 1939, and the Fascists in Europe are taking over - but not only in Germany, in Spain as well, where the International Brigade have been defeated by General Franco's forces, leaving thousands to flee their homeland north into France. The French government are at a loss to know what to do with these refugees, and set up camps to house them: what will come to be known as concentration camps, and one of the inmates is a Spanish artist, Josep Bartoli (voiced by Sergi López). The French gendarmes in charge of the camp he is in treat the Spanish dreadfully, but not all of them: there is one guard, Serge (Bruno Solo) who feels guilty at his fellow citizens' terrible behaviour, so to make small amends he offers Josep a pencil and paper to continue to draw...

Bartoli was a real person, a Spanish artist whose magnum opus were his cartoons detailing his time in that concentration camp, and what happened after he had got away from it, all with the help of a character this film extrapolates as the man who truly recalls what he was like, for he was there. Meaning, the historical business was set up as a series of flashbacks from the elderly Serge (Gerard Hernandez) who was more or less on his deathbed, relating this tale to his young grandson who becomes intrigued by the old man's rambling and begins to make sense of it. He doesn't get everything right, for the memories we hear and indeed see verge on the fuzzy in places, but there was enough to get the message and atmosphere of those times across.

The director here was another cartoonist, single-named Aurel, who used his skills to recreate Bartoli's artworks and bring it to life. Or at least, that was the idea, yet there was a halting quality to the visuals, sometimes flowing smoothly, at others a series of almost stuttering imagery, that had you wondering if you would not be better off reading Bartoli's originals rather than watching this representation that did not quite gel with its intentions. It was obvious we were intended to remember a "forgotten" man, and an equally neglected period of history that of course was overshadowed by the Second World War, but this was reminiscent of those angry, guilt-ridden pieces that obsessed over the fact France had been occupied by the Nazis and was blighted with collaborators in those years as a result.

That was to say, you could not deny not everyone acted well in that global crisis, but what was the purpose of bringing it up? Here you could perceive Aurel's intentions were noble rather than divisive - after all, Serge was a decent man who does what he can under awful circumstances to make things even a tiny bit better. Josep would love to find his pregnant wife again, and Serge tries to assist, though there's only so much he can achieve, and a sadness was there in every scene, a sadness of both missed opportunities and the way that people, ordinary people, can act so horribly when the prevailing winds push them towards selfishness and victimisation. What this film did in reaction to that was remind us there were beacons of hope in dire situations, even if it was sending a note into the future where it can be received and acknowledged; the worry that suffering will be for nothing when they are forgotten was as strong as anything in this. Unfortunately, this did not make the impact it should have, it was too monotonous, too confused in what it wanted to make important in Bartoli's life at the expense of other elements. But a worthy try. Music by Silvia Perez Cruz.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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