His gaze scans us, at the start of the documentary dedicated to him. The face of Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943), as she represents herself in this self-portrait, is that of a beautiful young girl with gracefully styled hair, looking both melancholic and questioning. An artist from the German Jewish bourgeoisie, who studied at the Beaux-Arts in Berlin, took refuge in France, in Nice, at the start of the Second World War, died in deportation to Auschwitz at the age of 26, when she was five months pregnant.

Before being arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, the young woman, who knew she was in danger, had taken the precaution of leaving a heavy cardboard box with a doctor close to her in Villefranche-sur-Mer (Alpes-Maritimes). telling him: “Take care of it, it’s my whole life. » Inside, a corpus of some 1,300 paintings, hundreds of pages of text, annotated sketches and pieces of music on tracing sheets composing a sort of graphic novel before its time. A work of great originality, titled Life? or theater?, subtitled Operetta with Three Colors, produced in eighteen months, between 1940 and 1942.

The artist recounts, in warm colors, in a naive, even sometimes childish, style, the joys and sorrows of his family from 1913 to 1940 (Life? or theater? was the subject of a publication in 2015 , published by Le Tripode). Her youth in Berlin, the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitic persecutions, her love affair with a music teacher, her exile in France, where she joined her maternal grandparents, refugees in the South before the war ended. bursts.

Moving evocation

A family marked by tragedies – suicide of her grandmother, drowning at age 18 of her aunt with the same first name as her, suicide of her mother when she was only 8 years old… –, recounted by David Foenkinos in his well-documented novel Charlotte (Gallimard, 2014), distinguished by the Renaudot prize and the Goncourt prize for high school students.

For their documentary Charlotte Salomon, the young girl and life, available on Arte.tv until March 24, Delphine and Muriel Coulin (17 girls, in 2011, Voir du pays, in 2016) in turn take this rich autobiographical material, preserved at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. After the war, Charlotte Salomon’s work was returned to her father, Albert Salomon, and her stepmother, the singer Paula Lindberg, who donated it to the Dutch institution.

The actors Vicky Krieps, Mathieu Amalric, Hanna Schygulla, André Wilms and the singer Catherine Ringer lend their voices to the different characters who intervene in the story and bring to life the scenes represented by the gouaches of Charlotte Salomon. Archive images, music and sound effects are mixed in, for an evocation as moving as it is delicate of an artist whose talent was cut down by Nazi barbarity.