Shoah is Claude Lanzmann’s landmark documentary meditation on the Holocaust. Assembled from footage shot by the filmmaker during the 1970s and 1980s, it investigates the genocide at the level of experience: the geographical layout of the camps and the ghettos; the daily routines of imprisonment; the inexorable trauma of humiliation, punishment, extermination; and the fascinating insights of those who experienced these events first hand.
Absent from the film is any imagery shot at the time the Holocaust occurred. There is only Lanzmann and his crew, filming in private spaces and now-dormant zones of eradication to extract testimony from a series of survivors, witnesses, and oppressors alike. Through his relentless questioning (aided on occasion by hidden camera), Lanzmann is able to coax out material of unparalleled emotional truth that constitutes both precious oral history and withering indictment.
Shoah (the title is a common designation for the Holocaust, and a Hebrew word that can be translated as “Catastrophe” or “Annihilation”) was the first of Lanzmann’s films to analyse the effects of the death camps on individual lives and the world at large. It represents an aesthetic achievement in line with Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog, combining inquiry, rage, and mourning to create a monumental portrait of shame and grief. Shoah locates within the present a direct line to the horrors of the past, and is widely regarded as one of the most powerful films of all time. —Eureka Entertainment
Claude Lanzmann, born in Bois-Colombes, France on November 27, 1925, is a Paris-based filmmaker, writer and journalist, renowned for his unprecedented ‘cinematic history of the Holocaust’, the 9 ½ hour documentary film SHOAH (1985). In his work, Claude Lanzmann addresses questions of Jewish identity by turning to topics such as the Holocaust, openly opposing its prevailing commodification by the film industry. Instead, he presents the past and its contradictions as fractured and unresolved, refusing to create works that are easy to digest. During the Second World War, at age eighteen, Claude Lanzmann joined the French communist party and fought against the Nazis. As a preparation for the École Normale Supérieure, he completed a course on philosophy at the Sorbonne. Nevertheless, following his interest in Germany after the war, he studied philosophy at Tübingen University and lectured on French literature and philosophy at the Free University of Berlin. In Berlin, he began his career… read more
Why didn't Lanzmann just have his interpreters interview the subjects, or add subtitles in post? The film really drags during those scenes of "translation triangles"; not to mention that the testimonies lose some power when they're interrupted so often. Still, an important film worth seeing at least once. The shots of the railroad tracks leading up to the camps are the most memorable images, for me.
Quite fine a testament, truly, where Lanzmann not just humanises but resurrects - and immortalises - the inhuman. Tracking and presenting talking heads of eyewitnesses and survivors as they confront a generation’s grief, in reviving both the sacred and the profane, and as painted through Lanzmann’s roving, penetrating lens. For this, not so much vivid as haunting, in its infusion of humanity and memory into procedure, time and place. The openness with which one former officer expounds on his complicit role proves but one discomfiting exception.
A collection of movie posters that ignore the golden rule of movie posters.
Also: Adam Shatz on Claude Lanzmann’s memoir and Catherine Grant’s roundup on Latin American and other radical and revolutionary cinema.
Also: Charlie Kaufman’s writing a novel and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s making a movie.
Fine new issue of the Brooklyn Rail, a sprawling list, news and more.
An extremely valuable document of the extermination of Jews during WWII. The twenty-five years since it’s release add a second layer as a document of the 70s, when it was filmed. I am ambivalent about… read review
Undoubtedly, Shoah is an artifact of the utmost importance. This is an indelible record of humanity’s most despicable moment told with only a few shards of bright light – the survivors. As a cinematic… read review