Claude Lanzmann

Claude Lanzmann

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The Last Of The Unjust Review


Excellent

At three and a half hours, this documentary sometimes feels both overlong and far too detailed, but filmmaker Claude Lanzmann knows that this material is vitally important, and by putting it all out there he challenges the viewer to understand the truth. As with his 10-hour 1985 masterwork Shoah, Lanzmann is exploring the Holocaust through first-hand accounts, this time from an angle we've never heard before. Which makes this documentary utterly riveting.

It centres on a filmed interview Lanzmann had with Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein in Rome in 1975. Murmelstein was the last Elder of the Jewish ghetto in Terezin (aka Theresienstadt), Czech Republic, and the only Elder to survive the war. Terezin was called "Hitler's gift to the Jews", and run by Eichmann as a "model ghetto". So Jews from throughout the conquered German territory emigrated there with wary expectations of a new life, only to discover a place of terror where minor crimes were punishable by hanging and thousands were regularly shipped off to Auschwitz and other death camps. After the war, Murmelstein was reviled by the Jews for working so closely with the Nazis but, as he says, "I was the between the hammer and the anvil", and he believed his role was to deaden the blows. He says he only survived so he could tell the true story of the Jewish "paradise".

Intercut with Murmelstein's 1975 conversation are present-day scenes of Lanzmann exploring various settings in Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic while he reads from Murmelstein's 1961 memoir Terezin: Eichmann's Model Ghetto. These sequences offer a startling contrast, as the now-benign locations reveal their horrific pasts. And to add further resonance, Lanzmann includes journalistic drawings made by ghetto residents of the events they witnessed. All together, this paints a striking portrait of what happened without ever resorting to manipulative moviemaking. As with Shoah, Lanzmann's approach is unblinking and comprehensive, including any details as he can get his hands on to make sure we know as much as possible.

Continue reading: The Last Of The Unjust Review

Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M. Review


Essential
Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M. contains no archival footage of the Holocaust. Nor does it attempt to recreate the uprising at that specific Polish extermination camp on that specific date and time by any means other than that of broad-shouldered, steadfast Yehuda Lerner's eyewitness account. The second half of this 95-minute film is almost entirely comprised of Lerner in close-up or medium shot relaying his memories of Jewish prisoners staging a hastily planned revolt against their Nazi captors. To those who criticize "talking head" documentaries, Sobibor understands that a documentary is only as important as the subject being considered. It feels appropriate and necessary to linger on Lerner's contemplation, his uncomfortable shifts, his bursts of defensive sarcasm, a bitter grin in harsh contrast to his haunted eyes. To cut away from his face, which reveals so much, would be to gaze away from a piece of history that must be preserved, contemplated, remembered.

Planned for inclusion as footage within French director and journalist Claude Lanzmann's landmark 9-hour documentary Shoah (the interview footage with Lerner is from 1979), Lanzmann considered the material important enough to merit its own treatment as a separate feature film. Those familiar with Lanzmann will be aware of his astute, philosophically charged methods: lingering images of streets and squares of contemporary Poland; long, meditative shots of Sobibor itself, now decaying and worn over by time; unflinching interviews that run for prolonged takes, lingering on the heavy silences.

Continue reading: Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M. Review

Claude Lanzmann

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Claude Lanzmann Movies

The Last of the Unjust Movie Review

The Last of the Unjust Movie Review

At three and a half hours, this documentary sometimes feels both overlong and far too...

Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M. Movie Review

Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M. Movie Review

Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M. contains no archival footage of the Holocaust. Nor...

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