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. Continue reading
new york times review (january 1995)
If “Tsahal,” opening today at the Walter Reade Theater, initially seems to admire that toughness unquestioningly, it eventually grows into a thoughtful exegesis of a troubling, complex subject. This film provoked a tear-gas bombing at a Paris movie theater last November, but it isn’t inflammatory on its own merits. Mr. Lanzmann, whose background in philosophy shapes his film making in palpable ways, is more pensive than judgmental. He seeks the essence of Israel’s embattled existence during “46 years of perpetual alarm.” Slowly, doggedly, he arrives at a profound understanding of it by the time “Tsahal” is over.
In 1979, while making his epochal Holocaust film, “Shoah,” Claude Lanzmann filmed this interview with Maurice Rossel, a Red Cross doctor from Switzerland who, having visited Auschwitz and Theresienstadt in 1944, gave the latter a highly favorable report. Lanzmann questions Rossel insistently about the deceptions that the Germans forced the Jewish inmates of Theresienstadt to perpetrate for Rossel’s benefit—which fooled the doctor completely. Lanzmann culminates his interview by reading a speech with which the Jewish “mayor” of the concentration camp had welcomed Rossel, which, though vague enough to pass unnoticed by the German captors, resounds unambiguously as a thinly veiled cry for help—and an exhortation to Rossel to not be deceived by appearances. Rossel is easy to despise and easier to mock, but the cold light of his detachment serves as a reminder of the tyrannical deceits that, even now, conceal atrocities. Released in 1997. Continue reading
Random lengthy possitive IMDb comment:
“From the director of “Shoah,” Claude Lanzmann, comes a documentary on the only successful revolt by Jewish concentration camp inmates. The Sobibor uprising in 1943 in Poland was investigated by Mr. Lanzmann many years ago when he was filming “Shoah” and his interviews with a participant named Lerner date from then. The director felt that the Sobibor uprising, which led to the closure of the extermination camp by the Nazis after many escaped, was too important to be a small part of his epic documentary. Now he has returned to this little known story.
Although Mr. Lerner is alive and well in Israel, Mr. Lanzmann felt that the much earlier footage of his extensive interview with the heroic survivor was all he needed and, in fact, much of the film is the interview itself. Continue reading