Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shoah (25th Anniversary Re-Release)

"Shoah" by Claude Lanzmann is a mesmerizing documentary, one which, over the course of 503 minutes, uses image and narration to evoke the experience of being in and around the concentration camps of Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Sobibor (as well as Jewish ghettos) during the Holocaust. It ruminates on the disturbing silences and screams of the camps, their procedural nature, the trains circulating in and out of them, their abominations, and their survivors and perpetrators.

Many of these, as well as people who lived on the fringes of the ordeal, are interviewed by Lanzmann, and a few in particular are exceptionally captivating: Filip Muller, who powerfully recounts the palpable atrocity, most horrifyingly the gas vans; Abraham Bomba, who speaks of cutting hair in the pre-crematorium "undressing rooms" and having to act as if everything was normal with his clients; Rudolf Vrba, who was involved in the coordinating Resistance efforts; Franz Suchomel, a German (whose interviews are on grainy and low-quality video, doubling their impact) who explains the operation and layout of the crematoriums. The film is also filled with magnificent, long take cinematography by three cameramen, which, as noted above, mimics the POVs of those at the time. Their surroundings permeate the viewer as a result.

To be frank, the film is 9 hours long, and it's a bit of a hard sit. And Lanzmann's technique isn't the tightest (in how he sometimes places mildly inexplicable images on-screen). But such things are completely insignificant in the long run. It uses cinema other than for dramatic sensations. Lanzmann is able to do this in a way that Charles Ferguson (of "Inside Job" fame) and other similar filmmakers cannot. Lanzmann deals with the Holocaust in a different way than Spielberg did with "Schindler's List," still a great film, but pinning the experience of many down to images. "Shoah" channels commonality (as it should), but (as my friend and others have said) does so mostly verbally, so as to summarize but not to limit. Altogether, "Shoah" is multilayered and jarring, and one should not let the film's re-release go by without giving it a viewing. A

1 comment:

S. M. Rana said...

I'm so glad you saw this wonderful film, which I viewed months ago.Compared to tis, Schindler's List, which you rightly appreciate, looks like fantasy, so powerfully is the sensation conveyed by Shoah that all these things really happened.