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"Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah" begins by putting the eponymous journalist/filmmaker's monumental nine-and-a-half-hour documentary on the Holocaust, Shoah (1985), in a quick context with thoughts from the likes of film critic Richard Brody and director Marcel Ophuls. It then dives headlong into a study of its making, with Lanzmann recounting the great emotional toll the seven years of production and five years of editing had on him. It is at once a fascinating portrait of a man openly pessimistic about the world, and a unique distillation of a creative process that yielded one of the most powerful cinematic documents of our time.Written by
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Claude Lanzmann, Himself:
I remember the day the film was finished. It was like a bereavement. You cannot finish a film like "Shoah" exploding with joy, no, no. I had worked for 12 years in a strange mixture of complete emergency and extreme patience too. I had to lie to everybody. You have to promise people, "I will finish next year, next year." After two years you are not finished. Four years, five, six, seven years, you are not finished. I had to follow my own line. My own law. I was proud of what I achieved. This, ...
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A film critic once said "It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it." This idea must be kept in mind when evaluating Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah. Specters is founded upon the perfect topic. Lanzmann is a creator of a film that is more than a film, the definitive Holocaust documentary, one of the most important accomplishments in cinema history. However, the method of this movie is relatively unimaginative, uncovering no profound insight.
Spectres opens with a few film personalities lauding Shoah. Lanzmann is introduced as complex, temperamental, and genius. After this brief introduction, the remaining film is an interview intercut with clips from Shoah and other archival footage. Lanzmann is dynamically shot from a variety of angles and distances, but is face is constantly partially obscured by shadows. This is an attractive look with obvious connotations. This man is a ghostly hero, permanently marred by his herculean labor. This melodrama provides unnecessary legitimacy to his pessimistic attitude. Specters revisits many of the most iconic moments in Shoah and asks Lanzmann to elaborate. He emphasizes the emotional pain, brotherhood, danger, but all of these themes were infinitely better communicated in Shoah itself. All efforts devoted to expanding the scope beyond Shoah are woefully pedestrian. Lanzmann anecdotes and history are reasonably interesting, but they fail to coalesce into greater themes. Specter's best moments are simply when it helps us remember Shoah. Maybe my expectations are too high. One interview and some basic biography research just seems insufficient.
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of Shoah could at best serve as an introduction to the topic. Hopefully this inspires those who understand this is not the definitive retrospect. I just worry this is a topic that can score a free Oscar. Awards are just awards, but they can trick people into thinking accolades are metrics of merit. I hope we can recognize films with quality beyond content.
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