Overview: In 1973, Claude Lanzmann began work on a documentary about the murder of European Jews during WWII. Twelve years and more than 200 hours of footage later, he finished Shoah, a masterpiece widely considered to be the most important Holocaust film ever made.
Written and directed by Adam Benzine, this first major documentary about Lanzmann recounts his journey from the bright-eyed journalist of 1973 to the world-weary auteur of 1985. The film features intense conversations in which he speaks candidly about his life experiences, focusing on the making of his magnum opus, an ordeal that changed him forever.
Expectations: I have watched a lot of subject matter in covering documentary programming for HBO including violent acts of war, but the Holocaust is not a subject I am ever eager to explore. Though the trailer below does not show anything horrible I can’t help but wonder how unsettled I’ll be about the topic. Will it focus more on the filmmaker’s journey or delve once again into the history of the events?
With all the accolades mentioned in the trailer I know this is going to be powerful, heart-felt and memorable. I’ll just have to dive in and experience it for myself.
Gut Reaction: At a tight forty minutes it is amazing where this documentary takes you. There is no graphic footage of the concentration camps or those who were interred there, but nevertheless the piece proves gripping. You are drawn into the words of Lanzmann every step of the way. And he says every word carefully with a touch of gloom, despair and passion behind every one. Subtitles help you understand every syllable as he gores from French to English with a hard accent.
It naturally leaves you with a reminder of the horrible acts of WWII, but more importantly this film illustrates where this epic filmmaking experience has left Lanzmann. He seems still so troubled by the whole process of chronicling the tale of Shoah and he can’t move past it yet. One interesting moment has the interviewer pushing him to reveal memories that almost cost him his life while filming. This is only after a scene in which he is shown goading a German man to do the same thing about working the gas chambers.
The whole film offers moments like that. It shows footage of Lanzmann at work as he reminisces on how he felt and how he took control of the project and made an iconic documentary film as a result. It is well worth a look.
In Conclusion: Though this writer has never seen Shoah and not likely to do so, at an exhausting 7-hours, I can say I have a great understanding of what that documentary is about and the approach the maker took in presenting it because of CLAUDE LANZMANN: SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH. Our lives ore defined by our accomplishments in that time. Lanzmann seems to carry a legacy and burden in being defined by his contribution. Having done so though, makes for an interesting man and I was glad to take the time via this film to hear his story.
Next: HBO is light on the documentary front this year. Oddly, a couple of documentaries on the schedule have been pulled, to hopefully surface later. Our next debut, unless we get a surprise, does not come until 06.20. We will continue our reviews then.