Film Review: Because I Was a Painter
Because I Was a Painter
Directed by Christophe Cognet
Christophe Cognet’s quiet, almost experimental documentary asks that eternal question, “Can an artistic depiction of the worst thing imaginable still be considered ‘beautiful’?” The film explores artwork created of the Holocaust by artists who lived it first-hand, utilizing interviews and readings from memoirs not just to portray their experiences and their work, but also to reveal their feelings about the work itself. Needless to say, there are different perspectives on the matter: For some, the art brought beauty to the unimaginable; for some, there was a kind of tragic, terrible beauty in what they actually depicted; for others, however, beauty could never be found in such places. As if to present the viewers with a similar choice, Cognet also often shows—in gorgeous, wide-screen photography—these concentration camps as they are today, trying to find a kind of solemn, meditative grace in them.
The film is beautiful, of course, and by that very fact it seems to answer its question. But it’s trying to do more than that: In all of these cases, there’s a sense of art working at its highest level, trying to grapple with the most profound of experiences. In the end, one wonders if the question isn’t whether beauty can be found amid such horror, but whether humanity can be found there. And the answer to that is a resounding yes. Even for those who reject the idea of beauty in this context, there’s a humanity—and, yes, a beauty—in their very rejection. All of these stories speak to our ability to transcend even the most unspeakable horror.