L’Esprit de L’Escalier (Searle Kochberg, 2010)
This recent documentary short by Searle Kochberg takes as its protagonist the family Camondo, on its journeys from Istanbul to Paris to Drancy to Auschwitz.
The Camondo family was a banking dynasty akin to the Rothschilds. Originally based in Istanbul, the family moved activities to Paris in the late 19th Century. As they moved, the family left private and public tracings of their existence – villas, public steps, major collections of art donated to the state. Their interest in architecture is evident wherever they were based, and for this reason it was decided to focus the film on the sites themselves: the film is shot on location at the family villas in Istanbul and Paris, and at the internment camp of Drancy.
The family, like many wealthy Jewish families of the 19th Century, assimilated into European high society, with many family members taking up the Christian faith to aid social mobility. In Paris, a key urban metropolis associated with modernity, the family felt protected, safe. Negotiations with the host country seemed successful. So much so that in 1936 the family’s outstanding modernist collection of French painting was donated to the Louvre. But history was ultimately to defeat them…
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