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.
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