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I finally saw Shoah yesterday at the Ontario Cinematheque. I sat
through the entire 9 and a half hours in one sitting.
Shoah surprised me in several ways. The first was how the interviews were conducted. Lanzmann is a very direct and aggressive interviewer and initially, I was very put off by how he delved into his subjects. He seemed almost wreckless and completely devoid of empathy as he continued to ask the most personal and private questions, never hesitating to force his subjects to think back to what was not only the darkest moment of their lives, but the darkest moments of modern Western history.
Eventually, what happens however, is astonishing. Most interviewees eventually give up their resistance, and very carefully relate their stories. Lanzmann forces them to consider details. How many bodies per furnace? How wide was the ditch? How far was the train ramp from the camp's bunkers? These details facilitate memory and soon, the subjects open up in the most remarkable way.
No matter how you feel, or what you think you know about the Holocaust, this film puts faces to the tragedy in a way few conventional documentaries could. The emphasis here is on memory and oral history.
As one Holocaust victim says early in the film, "It might be good for you to talk about these things. But for me, no." Eventually however, he realizes he must bear witness.
There's one remarkable scene where Lanzmann confronts German settlers in Poland about the previous owner of their home, who were Jewish and sent to Auschwitz after their properties were confiscated.
People who don't find this film 'entertaining' or perhaps 'boring' probably feel that way because, outside of the immediate experiences of the subjects being interviewed, there is no wider context to present the events. A worthwhile companion to this film would be the BBC's Auschwitz: Inside The Nazi State which runs 4 and a half hours, but will help you understand Shoah better.
The other thing I found fascinating about this film was how the translations actually helped you absorb what is being said in a way direct subtitling wouldn't. For instance, most of the subjects speak German or Polish. Lanzmann speaks French mainly and some German. His translator translates what's being said into French and then the subtitles translate the French into English. By being able to look into the eyes of the people speaking, in their own native language, and then read the subtitles, was a very subtle, but very effective tool that deadens the 'shock value' of what is being spoken and gives the viewer more time to absorb the content.
Some people have complained also that the film also has many long takes, which are seemingly of nothing. For instance, Lanzmann lets his camera linger on the remnants of Chelmno, which was razed after the war. Although it just looks like a five minute shot of a field, what struck me was how different this bucolic field must have been in 1942. Making this connection justifies every frame shot. Lanzmann, however, will not force this down your throat. You must be patient.
This is an astonishing film that must be seen by everyone, at least once. Please review the general historical context of the Holocaust before you see it, to get the most out of it, but otherwise, this is living testament of the most vital kind.
Brilliant, essential film-making.
It's nine and a half hours of travelogue footage and interviews with
terribly ordinary middle-aged and senior citizens about events that
happened a half-century ago.
Except that the sites visited are the scenes of the systematic mass murder of roughly 11 million men, women and children, including some 6 million Jews, and the ordinary grandparents are the survivors and perpetrators of some of the most horrendous atrocities that mankind has committed upon each other.
It is a terribly draining movie, hypnotic and disorienting, both in it's length and in the blandness, the matter-of-fact descriptions of things that would make a normal person scream in horror. And that is what is so amazingly important and meaningful about this film; that these were ordinary, average people. These were, and are, normal folks like you and me, and anybody, regardless of background, moral upbringing, and standards of decency can be caught up in circumstances beyond their power or experience, and can do the most depraved or heroic things imaginable. It is shocking, insightful, and a very,very important film that forces us to confront our own humanity and decide what that, in fact means.
But it's nine and a half hours long. Be prepared to be drained and leave with your head buzzing.
This documentary tells the story of the Holocaust from a particularly human and "everyman" viewpoint. Claude Lanzmann realized that the victims of this horror were gradually dying off and took the initiative to search out the innocents who had these hidious tattoos on their arms and just talk to them. Not all wanted to be a part of the picture, but Lanzmann had a very unique ability to coax and sometimes browbeat the experiences out of these ordinary people who were subjected to unspeakable horrors. This is a long and extremely painful film to watch. Make no mistake. At the end is a better understanding of man's capacity for cruelty to his fellow man. I believe that is what Lanzmann wanted to pass down to the coming generations.
Over the past several weeks I had the opportunity to see all of Claude
Lanzmann's 9 1/2-hour documentary about the Holocaust. It left me cognizant
of a greater tragedy in much the same way that PIXOTE opened my eyes to the
humanity on the streets of South America. Like many people who have seen
SHOAH I was interested in it primarily because of the degree of praise that
this film has received; some critics have called it one of the most
important films ever made. Well, now that I have had time to reflect on this
film for the past month can I honestly say that SHOAH is one of the greatest
films ever made? To answer my own question, it depends on how you look at
SHOAH in now way covers the entire scope of the holocaust. Instead it focuses on the people who were sent to three specific concentration camps during WWII. The film also concentrates on the people who were involved in the deportation and execution of those who arrived to the camps. Its last hour is devoted to events that occurred around the Warsaw Ghetto. The fact that this film limits its scope made me aware that this was an account that's too big to be perfectly analyzed and deciphered. It's too complex for a standard 2 hour, 4 four or even the film's 9 1/2 hour length. It's testament to the number of documentaries about the Holocaust which have come out fairly recently. But unlike those documentaries, SHOAH seems less about the Holocaust than it is about people, whether they were the commanders who intimidated the Jews, individuals who had small farms or houses near the concentration camps or even the victims themselves. These are all people who have a story to tell. SHOAH made me think out of the context of the film a lot. The fact that it told me so much about people made me wonder about the loss of the life that occurred during the 80's when the Contras fought the Sandinistas, or when Pol Pot executed his own people, or when Stalin starved his own soldiers during the War. All of these people had a story to tell but you hear very little about these tragedies that fell on their own lives. In a way, that's so unfair. Nevertheless, SHOAH comes closer than any other documentary I have seen when it comes to showing us what makes life so sacred and special.
To be fair, there are long stretches in SHOAH that are less than riveting, and moments when you question the ethics and purposes of the filmmaker. As one commenter candidly pointed out, there are times when SHOAH is more like a chore than an experience but as Claude Lanzmann orders one interviewee during the film, "We have to do it, you know it." And that's why SHOAH has to be seen: It's a real film about a real tragedy, real events, and real people.
This documentary made me squirm in my seat and shiver more that any fictional horror movie ever has. There were no graphic images to shock the viewer, only people. People with tales of survival and death that I wish I could push to the back of my mind saying "It's only a movie". It's not. It is an oral history of a terrifying time. I will never forget the emotions I felt watching Shoah. I hope more people take the time to see this long, but very worthwhile documentary.
This eight-hour documentary is NOT what you might think. It contains not one frame of archival footage of Nazi atrocities. Instead, it is dozens of modern (early '80s) interviews with surviving death camp inmates, guards, a commandant and people living near the camps. In several cases, Lanzman takes surviving inmates back to the razed sites of the camps, where they recount the horrific indignities visited upon them. The most hair-raising interview is about six hours in, with a Jewish barber who, in the space of 5 minutes, shaved the heads of his wife, his best friend and his best friend's wife just prior to their being gassed. With tears welling up, he describes shaving their heads in silence and without acknowledgement, so he might continue living and offer testimony to their hellish demise.
I haven't much to say that hasn't already been said about Shoah. It is
certainly a powerful film, and as far as I'm concerned, its experiment
succeeds. Its very ontology begs the question of the power of the
"kino-eye." If we are to compare it to, say, Schindler's List or,
better, since it is non-fiction, Resnais' Nuit et Brouillard, we ask,
can the film be as powerful when none of the "real" footage is used?
Shoah might succeed merely because of its length, but one could
perfectly well argue that it fails. There is nothing wrong with finding
this film excruciatingly boring, particularly if one does not consider
the experiment a success. For this reason, I disagree with the review
of the film that says people should not post if they didn't like the
film. One does not, for one thing, "know what they are getting into"
necessarily, because the film is experimental in nature. Also, the
claim that the film is too long is partly justified by the fact that it
is a commercial film, i.e., distributed for viewing. If one does not
like it, this is no doubt partially the fault of Lanzmann and the way
the Holocaust is presented as something "you must feel bad about." Any
sense of dislike or distaste does not make a viewer insensitive or
cruelly apathetic in any way.
It is also possible to be turned off by Lanzmann himself. I've always found that an "objective" documentary is nearly an oxymoron, but Lanzmann, if this is what he is trying, fails miserably at objectivity. When he interviews the guards of the camps, he is aggressive and often interrupts what they are saying. There are two (or three, I can't remember) who ask that their names and faces do not be revealed. Lanzmann does both, the latter by sneaking in a secret camera. The guilt of these guards speaks for itself, but Lanzmann seems to be more interested in telling them what to feel, and recounting to them their own stories rather than merely letting them speak. And the hidden camera thing seems to me little more than an immature fetish.
More generally, I feel somewhat uneasy about the fact that Lanzmann has made his entire career by marketing the Holocaust. Each of his films recounts it in some way or another, and treating the tragedy as a commodity has some consequences which do not put the director in a positive light. Also, he seems to ignore the fact that less than half of those killed in the Holocaust were Jews. The film's title, Hebrew for "annihilation" or "holocaust," obviously implies that it is the story of the Jewish plight. Still, if it is an attempt at absolute realism on Lanzmann's part, it is, in a sense, somewhat reductive to refer to it this way. This, naturally, is a more general criticism about teaching the Holocaust, but I think it an apt criticism of Lanzmann, who I suppose we could call the "part owner" of the Holocaust market.
In contrast to most movies on the subject, this holocaust documentary contains no grisly wartime footage. Instead it presents a wide range of perspectives on the time mostly from those who were there when it happened: concentration camp survivors, neighbors of Jews who were deported, and even several important Nazi functionaries. The visual backdrop to the interviews with witnesses consists largely of images from the interviews coupled with footage of the mostly abandoned sites where atrocities occurred. The overall effect is devastating.
I don't understand all of the "1 point voters". This was not made to entertain people. Iy you don't like it, don't vote please. It's a shame that Shoah has an average of not even "7"! There's no reason to vote on Shoah, if you don't like the format. Any other criticism on Shoah is totally ridiculous. Shoah is the, like some users mentioned, the ultimate documentary on the Holocaust. Take your time and watch Shoah. I've watched it in four parts on TV in two weeks. Ther's nothing comparable to Shoah. Lanzeman did a job for the whole world. Just have a deeper look at the interviewed people, the streets, the landscapes, the churches, the villages... It's so much more effective than any over motion picture.
I understand the criticism of SHOAH. It fails in a number of things one would normally expect a documentary to deliver. It spends little or no time establishing the causes of the holocaust, nor does it even make a pretence of being an impartial document of what happened. This is an opportunity for the victims to describe what happened to them in order to ensure the world never forgets. The decision to secretly film some of the Nazi guards and camp officials grates as it deviates from this agenda and throws the partisan stance of the filmmaker into the spotlight. He justifies this on the basis of who they are and what they did - but that is a cop-out. He betrayed the integrity of the film by lying to them and proves little by it. That they have spent the years since the war ended rationalising their behaviour to themselves is hardly a surprise - if they hadn't been able to do that they would not have survived anyway. Having said all that SHOAH remains a remarkable testament from those who were there and saw and felt such things as none of us could begin to imagine. As such it is an important work that should be on every school syllabus. The people of the world who do not know, or choose not to believe, about the holocaust (and there appear to be lots of them) need to see this.
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