The Spanish film tells the story of photographer Francisco Boix, who was captured by the Germans in 1940 and was one of 7,000 Spaniards in the Mauthausen–Gusen concentration camp in Austria, a fact most people don't know.
"What has been shown is that most people in Spain don’t know there were Spanish prisoners in Mauthausen," director Mar Targarona told Variety. "The numbers don’t coincide according to the sources, but there were around 7,500, of which about 2,000 survived."
The director also revealed that whether Francisco survived or not (we won't spoil that now), his photographs— he hid an estimated 20,000 negatives during his time in the SS photographic service at Mauthausen — actually helped put war criminals behind bars. He also had the help of a local woman named Anna Pointner (played by Marta Holler), who rescued hundreds of negatives.
"The photography is the heart of the film. In fact, the examples that appear during the credits complement the story," Mar explained. "The photographs served as testimony of what occurred. What the Nazis did was all documented, despite all that they burned. And it’s chilling to see. Most of all, seeing how naturally the Nazis themselves assumed their role."
Who plays Francisco Boix?
Starring in the lead role is a barely recognizable Mario Casas. The Spanish actor lost almost 40 pounds to play the part of a concentration camp prisoner — but revealed he would do it all over again, no matter how difficult the experience was.
"While filming, there was a moment, when I'm with Nazis in a laboratory almost at the end of the movie, and I broke," he said in an interview. "I broke because Francisco Boix was a a guy who went through the concentration camp with a smile, with a sweetness, with a charisma... that's what helped him survive and me, as an actor, I couldn't anymore. I exploded. I got emotional. And I think the take we used was the first take."
While Mario, 32, might not be as well known as his Spanish acting counterparts, he is well on his way to becoming an international movie star. His breakout role came in 2010 when he starred in Tres metros sobre el cielo (Three Steps Above Heaven), which became the highest-grossing movie in Spain that year.
He went on to appear in the historical drama Palmeras en la Nieve (Palm Trees in the Snow) — which you can also stream on Netflix now — the thriller Toro, dark comedy The Bar, and most recently, The Skin of the Wolf (also on Netflix). Next up: his return to TV in the series, Instinto.
Does Francisco Boix survive? Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Francisco was an inmate at Mauthausen from 1940 until the end of the war in May 1945. Following his release, he testified in two trials against former Nazis, including the Nuremburg Trial, where he was called as a witness. There he showed photographs from inside the concentration camp, showing the poor conditions and proof that the high leaders of the Third Reich visited and knew of the camp's existence.
He also testified in an American trial in Dachau against 61 Nazis who committed crimes in Mauthausen.
After the war, Francisco continued to work as a photographer for the French press until his death from kidney failure — the result of his time in the camp — in 1951. He was 30 years old.
Stream The Photographer of Mauthausen on Netflix starting Feb. 22.