In discussing the brief snippet from the ever contentious Uwe Boll's no-doubt harrowing new film Auschwitz (2011) - particularly the way in which the sequence communicates the most regrettable atrocity associated with the holocaust - chiefly, human indifference - through the image of a Nazi guard listlessly marking time while the cries of the women and children call out from the torture of the gas chamber - I was reminded of this short 15 minute feature from the always brilliant Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson.
World of Glory (Härlig är jorden, 1991) - which seems to take place in the present day, but nonetheless begins with a sequence deliberately intended to evoke the horrors of the Second World War - may be the greatest and most penetrating comment ever made on the issues of genocide, shame and collective guilt. Expressing its ideas through incredibly simple though never simplistic static tableaux - where the intention of scenes is to present the void-like moral decay form within the very soul of its ghostly central character (played by Klas-Gösta Olsson) - World of Glory grabs the viewer's attention from the very first frame; establishing a particular tone of disquieting, deadpan surrealism, before eventually leading us, scene by scene and minute by minute, through the painful empty life of this enigmatic central figure, in a way that seems to underline or exaggerate the absolute vacant misery of his pitiless existence.
In the unforgettable opening sequence, a group of officious, grey-suited spectators stand beside the rear of a monstrous diesel-fuelled truck, watching a huddled mass of naked women and children being loaded into the hold. The piercing cries of the smallest child, central to the frame, are shattering, as the small fat man to the left of frame kicks out at the boarding-ramp to hasten their ill-fated departure. As the heavy-metal doors are slammed shut, locked and bolted, muting but failing to drown out the horrible screams from within, one of the spectators, a thin man with a sinister moustache, turns to face the camera.
At this moment, as the large, industrial hose is led from the exhaust to the small vent at the back of the truck, the audience is being explicitly acknowledged - worse, implicated - in these events, but can only experience the unfolding massacre, hopeless and removed.
From here, the film cuts to a scene in a hospital ward. The thin man, the same character who acknowledged our presence during the opening moments, introduces us to his near-comatose mother lying lifelessly in bed. "This is my mother..." he says, matter-of-factly; "I am very attached to her" From here, the film quickly establishes a rhythm, cutting from one vignette to the next as the man shares with us his mundane observations on everything from his job to his car to his bed and his family. Through these static sequences, Andersson is showing a character in an obvious state of denial; pretending to himself that these miniature moments that make up the fragments of his everyday routine are in some way 'meaningful.' That this life, which consists of work, or church, or family, is somehow a life well lived. We can assume from this (thought it isn't particularly clear) that Andersson is contrasting the drab tedium of this existence with the horror of the opening sequence. The character is, in a sense, in limbo; visibly damaged by the cold brutality of the film's first scene and yet desperate to convince himself that everything is still okay.
At the end of the film, the implication, that everything is not okay, is made clear, with Andersson's framing of this character, upright in his bedroom, his hands over his ears, while his wife lies asleep in bed. The guilt of what he has witnessed is simply too great to ignore, and the constant bleed of useless information or personal trivia can no longer distract him from the horrible cries that haunt his every waking moment. The film quite brilliantly asks the audience to question who is worse; those who pull the switches, or those who stand idly by and allow such things to happen.