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Review: The Mexican Suitcase Documentary

by Ibarionex Perello on 07/03/2013

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In the history of photography, there are few people who have had as lasting an impact as Robert Capa. A Hungarian-born photographer, he helped to redefine conflict photography. His observation that “if your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” has been repeated like a mantra by photojournalists for decades.

But Robert Capa’s story has been crafted not only by his stunning images of men at war, but also by the myth that he himself helped create. It’s a perception that helped elevate him to legendary status, but which at the same time diminished the awareness if not the importance of two of his compatriots, each who had as significant an impact on redefining the role of a photographer in war.

Directed by Trisha Ziff, The Mexican Suitcase tells the story of a mysterious suitcase that contained the negatives created by these three photographers during the failed Spanish Civil War in the early part of the 20th Century. In it was the work not only of Robert Capa, but also of his compatriots with a camera, David “Chim” Seymour and Gerda Taro.

The film explores the impact of the images created by these photographers. By photographing in the midst of combat, their photographs provided the world a never-before seen view of war and its impact not only on fighting men, but on a vulnerable civilian population.

The documentary deftly explores the importance of these three young photographers and how the recovery of this missing suitcase helped to tell a more complete story of their efforts during the failed revolution.

It is a film that might have sufficed at telling the story of photographers with an engaging mystery-solving narrative. However, it becomes even more poignant when the journey of the suitcase and its contents parallels the journey of the Spanish refugees from Spain, to refugee camps on the beaches of France to their final destination in Mexico.

The film is also an exploration of the importance of memories and their ownership, not only by the photographers who captured events with their cameras, but the people who survived those same events. The film succeeds in showing how photography not only serves as a spark for memory, but also provides the means to tap into deep and lasting feelings of survival, loss and determination.

Available currently on Amazon Instant Video as well as streaming via Netflix, the Mexican Suitcase is a film that should not be missed by anyone with a passion for not only photography, but also history.

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