Documentary Short Review: ‘Colette’

Greetings again from the darkness. Watching someone else experience grief can be every bit as painful as our own. This 23 minute documentary short by Anthony Giacchino has earned an Oscar nomination for this precise reason – we feel the gut-wrenching pain of 90 year old Colette Marin-Catherine.

Colette and her family were part of the French resistance during WWII. Her older brother, 17 year old Jean-Pierre, was arrested by Gestapo and sent to Mittlebau-Dora concentration camp in Nordhausen, Germany. We also meet Lucie Foube, a history student who is chronicling the prisoners from that concentration camp. Lucie wants to profile Jean-Pierre, and though neither she nor Colette has been to a concentration camp, they set out together to see where Jean-Pierre served as slave labor prior to his death.

You’ve not likely met a stronger-willed 90 year old than Colette, and she offers up personal details from her family’s efforts during the war. She describes her brother as “a genius” and herself as “an idiot” … the latter a label we can immediately tell is not close to accurate. Director Giacchino allows Colette and Lucie to bond prior to the trip, but once they are in Germany, the raw emotions cannot be contained.

Walking the grounds and seeing the ruins of the place that took her brother’s life is almost overwhelming for Colette. The night prior, a former German mayor tries to grandstand in front of Colette and the camera, but she’ll put up with no such thing, and shuts him down quickly. We learn 60,000 prisoners passed through the Mittlebau-Dora gates, and 20,000 died. One was Jean-Pierre who died 3 weeks before Allied troops liberated the camp. Colette and Lucie walk through the tunnel where he was tasked with assembling German V2 rockets … a graveyard of a different type.

“Morbid tourism” is how Colette describes the idea of walking through concentration camps, but her mission couldn’t be more personal. Seeing Colette and the younger Lucie experience this is quite something to behold. Colette’s mother once said, “it should have been you” that was taken, and those words have haunted her since. Yet, this amazing woman has stood tall for the 75 plus years since, and grants us the privilege of her first-hand experience and knowledge. We are so fortunate.

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