Eye For Film >> Movies >> Claude Lanzmann: Spectres Of The Shoah (2015) Film Review
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres Of The Shoah
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Claude Lanzmann's 1985 documentary Shoah is widely considered to be the definitive film about the Holocaust. At nine hours and 26 minutes, it's certainly the longest. It has been discussed by others in any number of settings but here, at the age of 87, Lanzmann reflects on its content, how it was made, what it meant to him and what it cost him.
Having created such an important historical record, Lanzmann himself has become a historical subject, and there are distinct parallels between the interview techniques he describes using and he gentle way he is prompted to push his own boundaries. This short documentary is a mixture of anecdote and reflections, parts of the later clearly being difficult for its subject, who recalls how the process of making Shoah changed him: to confront others with truth about what happened in he camps, he had first to face it himself, and to spend years immersed in it, sometimes watching the same harrowing footage over and over again. It has never ceased to haunt him. These interviews have the atmosphere of a confessional and suggest a form of martyrdom with wider artistic implications, Lanzmann taking on the full weight of that dark history to spare others of his generation from having to, preserving it for people to whom, for all his skill, it will never be as difficult. When he talks about one of his interviewees approaching the subject in a cold, distanced manner, one cannot help but notice his attempts to do likewise.
In between these musings are vivid stories about the process of filming and information gathering, some of them supported by previously unseen footage - it reminds us that there must be days' worth of material that ended p on the cutting room floor, much of it doubtless fascinating. In one notable section here, we hear about his use of hidden cameras when interviewing former Nazi officers on a false pretext, and what happened when one such officer's wife realised what was going on. Still unnerving to listen to today, this, more than anything, serves to remind viewers that society underwent no sudden changes at the end of the war - that many of those who held power in the camps continued to wield influence afterwards and the popular prejudices that had enabled the Holocaust remained extant. Working in this context put Lanzmann in very real danger.
Arriving at a time when the last Nazi concentration camp survivors are dying of old age and educators are beginning to worry about how to communicate what happened to the next generation, this HBO documentary is a timely piece of work and an important contribution to conversations on cinematic history.Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2016
If you like this, try:The Last Of The Unjust