Archive for the ‘Claude Lanzmann’ Category


“Shoah,” dir. Claude Lanzmann

October 18, 2009


A monumental accomplishment, all the more impressive considering the absence of archival footage. Few documentary filmmakers would be willing to make a 9 1/2 hour picture in this manner (even stills were not used), but with Shoah, it never feels likes a restriction. When they teach you about the Holocaust in grade school, it can feel a bit abstract – even taught by a survivor sitting in front of you, it can be a history lesson on something very distant. With Shoah, it feels a lot closer, a lot more real and concrete. Casual, anti-Semitic remarks from ‘present-day’ individuals reinforce this feeling, but much of it is visually accomplished as well. Testimony from surviving witnesses are connected to contemporary visuals, many of which would appear ordinary and mundane in a different context. Visits to quiet, barren sites of mass murders, seemingly lost to nature and time, feel incredibly uneasy.

Watching this film is really an experience, something that really stays with you long after you watch it, and I think that becomes clear in the last 15 minutes or so. A Jewish survivor recalls a moment during the war when he briefly escaped a ghetto and saw normal civilization for the first time in a long time. Lanzmann cuts this with contemporary footage of everday life. Again, in another context, this would seem very mundane…but after watching the first 9+ hours of this picture, seeing this footage while hearing this survivor’s story creates a startling moment of empathy, of feeling so alien to normal, civilized life after emerging from one long nightmare.