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 »
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
An estimated 225 hours of footage were shot. The editing process took 5 years. See more »
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 »
One reason why I'm drawn into cinema is that at its best it brings together all of art, transcends the boundaries, and without which I would be somehow clueless, somewhat not completely myself. Almost always I describe these films as important, subjectively speaking, and most of the time the mark they imprint upon me is a thirst for more, all this in the most positive sense one may imagine.
And then there's "Shoah" (1985). It's unbearably long, gruesomely shocking and depressing, and with certainty a film I don't wish to see again and see as a kind of anti-film. Yet that's precisely why it's remarkable, and why it is important. It's transcendental in a way that I've rarely witnessed: it disregards time and its own format, and simply exists. It doesn't care that it stops and meditates. To "linger" is a wrong choice of words, since it means staying in one place "longer than necessary, typically because of a reluctance to leave". The point is not to linger, but to endure. The point of the film is to exist as it is, as a witness. Thus one of its weaknesses, if one uses such comparative and charged term, becomes its essential characteristic: the film is all about not being a film, it's not about finding a quick way around a point to another. It's a record of pain, and it's not meant to be an easy-going experience.
"Shoah", then, is like a film that refuses to be a film. It was Ebert who called it "an act of witness". I agree. It is a witness to people reminiscing about something so horrible of which it's quite impossible to reminisce at all. But they do it, and their pain has been transferred to Lanzmann's poem. This poem doesn't try to make the incomprehensible comprehensible, but rather make that, which is incomprehensible to them, the survivors, equally incomprehensible to us. As such, "Shoah" is a monument, a collection of recollections that wrenches at the heart.
I suppose my reaction was the most natural there is after being exposed to what the Holocaust was: emptiness that is like a fleeing dream trying to catch its tail, unsuccessfully groping at the ever-distant memory. The feeling is that there was no way out, and there still isn't. That we can learn from the horrors of the past, but really don't. And at what cost? The survivors' testimonies, of their own survival and of the lives of those who didn't, is, in the end, the story that deserves to be told, again and again.
I saw "For All Mankind" (1989) shortly after this. I'd say these two films form a very perceptive cross-section of what we humans are like. The awe I felt during "Mankind" only intensified the opposite kind of awe, of dread, I felt during "Shoah": can this be the same humankind that is capable of both kinds of deeds, and almost contemporarily? No matter how far into space we launch ourselves, we carry within us both the darkness and the light, the hopelessness and hope. In the words of W. B. Yeats, "things fall apart; the centre cannot hold."
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