Arnaud Desplechin honours Claude Lanzmann

"An immense artist just left us"

by Anne-Katrin Titze, Arnaud Desplechin

‪Claude Lanzmann‬ (November 27, 1925 - July 5, 2018)
‪Claude Lanzmann‬ (November 27, 1925 - July 5, 2018) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Claude Lanzmann, the director of the documentaries Shoah, The Last Of The Unjust, Napalm, and The Four Sisters (Les Quatre Soeurs) passed away in Paris on the morning of July 5, 2018.

During last year's New York Film Festival Claude Lanzmann and I had a brief exchange at Lincoln Center when he was presenting The Four Sisters (Les Quatre Soeurs). He had heard earlier from his producer David Frenkel, with whom I had an in-depth conversation on the films, how deeply moved I was. Lanzmann walked up to me and gave me a big hug before he introduced The Hippocratic Oath (Le Serment d'Hippocrate), his unforgettable documentary on Ruth Elias.

Arnaud Desplechin sent the following tribute (translated below) from Paris in honour of Claude Lanzmann:-

"Ce matin, mon maitre est mort. Si je suis devenu le spectateur que je suis, c’est à la suite de la première sortie en salle de Shoah. Comme tant d’autres spectateurs, j’éprouve aujourd’hui une gratitude immense.

‪Claude Lanzmann‬ presented The Four Sisters (Les Quatre Soeurs) in the Special Events program at last year's New York Film Festival
‪Claude Lanzmann‬ presented The Four Sisters (Les Quatre Soeurs) in the Special Events program at last year's New York Film Festival Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Les mots me manquent, mais je désire écrire ceci : à travers le peuple juif, Hitler a attaqué l’humanité d’une façon si cruelle et si retorse, que son attentat contre chacun d’entre nous a duré bien des années après la guerre. Nous étions blessés et nous ne savions plus bien ce qui s’était passé. Nous ne savions habiter notre douleur, nos deuils.

"Par la puissance de l’art, il est revenu à un film de cinéma de mettre fin à cet attentat. Pas à un livre, à un poème, ou une symphonie, non, c’est par un film que nous avons pu commencer enfin à vivre notre histoire.

"Ceci est unique dans l’histoire de l’art. Et c’est un privilège vertigineux que Claude a offert ainsi au cinéma. Il lui aura fallu pour cela une pensée profonde et un courage fou. Oui, cet homme fut mon héros. Cinéaste et et philosophe, il a su réparer le tissu de ma vie.

"Je me souviens de la mort d’Hitchcock, était-ce Godard ou Serge Daney qui soulignaient combien Hitchcock fut un des plus grands inventeurs de forme de l’art moderne.

"Je crois, de tout mon engagement cinéphile, que Lanzmann fut une des plus grans inventeurs tout court du cinéma. Chaque fois que je revois l’un de ses films, je ne sais m’empêcher de me souvenir comment Les Demoiselles d’Avignon et Guernica changeaient le visage de l’art, l’accomplissaient. Les films de Lanzmann sont à mesurer à cette aune, c’est dire l’ampleur de la perte.

"Je pense aux jeunes cinéphiles. Qu’ils aient vu les films de Claude ou non, peu importe : nous habitons un monde qui a été changé par un film, et ce film s’appelle Shoah. Ses films ont su dessiner des routes que nous traversons tous, que nous le sachions ou non. Un artiste immense vient de disparaître, nous lui devons tant."

- Arnaud Desplechin

English translation -

"This morning, my master died. I became the spectator I am today, leaving the cinema for the first time after seeing Shoah. Like so many other spectators, I experience today an immense gratitude.

I am lacking the words, but I want to write this: through the Jewish people, Hitler attacked humanity in a way so cruel and so twisted, that his attempt against each of us lasted long into the post-war years. We were wounded and we didn’t really know what had happened. We didn’t know how to live in pain, live in mourning.

It was through the power of art, that a work of cinema, a film, made an end of that attempt. Not a book, not a poem or a symphony, no, it is through a film that we could finally begin to live our history.

This is unique in the history of art. And it is a vertiginous privilege that Claude gave to cinema this way. For that he needed depth of thought and mad courage. Yes, this man was my hero. Filmmaker and philosopher, he knew how to repair the fabric of my life.

I remember when Hitchcock died, was it Godard or Serge Daney who emphasized how much Hitchcock was one of the greatest formal inventors of modern art.

I believe with all my cinephile commitment that Lanzmann was one of the greatest inventors of cinema. Every time I watch again one of his films, I can’t stop thinking how Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Guernica managed to change the face of art. The films of Lanzmann can be measured by this yardstick - that shows the extent of our loss.

I am thinking of young cinephiles. Whether they have seen Claude’s films or not makes little difference: we live in a world that was changed by one film, and that film is called Shoah. His films were able to draw roads which we all cross, whether we know it or not. An immense artist just left us, we owe him so much."

- Arnaud Desplechin

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