A place: Theresienstadt. A unique place of propaganda which Adolf Eichmann called the "model ghetto", designed to mislead the world and Jewish people regarding its real nature, to be the ... See full summary »
A documentary following Kenzo Okuzaki, a 62-year-old WW2 veteran notorious for his protests against Emperor Hirohito, as he tries to expose the needless executions of two Japanese soldiers during the war.
Claude Lanzmann directed this 9 1/2 hour documentary of the Holocaust without using a single frame of archive footage. He interviews survivors, witnesses, and ex-Nazis (whom he had to film secretly since they only agreed to be interviewed by audio). His style of interviewing by asking for the most minute details is effective at adding up these details to give a horrifying portrait of the events of Nazi genocide. He also shows, or rather lets some of his subjects themselves show, that the anti-Semitism that caused 6 million Jews to die in the Holocaust is still alive and well in many people who still live in Germany, Poland, and elsewhere.Written by
Gene Volovich <email@example.com>
Srebnik and Podchlebnik were not the only Jewish survivors of the Chelmno Extermination Camp. Today we know at least 9 by name, but not all survived WWII and/or gave testimonies. Lanzmann probably didn't know then. See more »
[describing his arrival at Treblinka]
We were taken to a barracks. The whole place stank. Piled about five feet high in a jumbled mass, were all the things people could conceivably have brought. Clothes, suitcases, everything stacked in a solid mass. On top of it, jumping around like demons, people were making bundles and carrying them outside. It was turned over to one of these men. His armband said 'Squad Leader'. He shouted, and I understood that I was also to pick up clothing, bundle it, and...
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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.
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