20 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Maybe not quite the event claimed?
, 1 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Shoah 4-DVD Set (DVD)
I have not seen this 9 hour long documentary until 2012 so some 30 odd years have passed since it was originally made and issued. Maybe a lot of the new research (especially in the last decade by German and non-German historians) on how the German strategy towards Jews and other chosen races (notably the gypsies of Eastern Europe who always seem to be ignored under such films and research) developed has influenced me but ultimately I did not find the whole documentary quite the major work claimed.
What the film does do excellently is avoid any historical film and photo images and simply places the interviewees and the camera in the 1980s recording what is left (either ruins of the camps or ghettoes or of simply the fields and simple monuments) and relying on their memories and recall of the Holocaust in Poland. Occasionally Lanzmann interjects on screen (more on that later) but for the most part the interviewees are let tell the story in their own words, both simply and at times emotionally. The timing of what the film achieves is one suspects no longer possible with time passing and natural deaths reducing the number of survivors who could be interviewed now (two key examples being one of the two survivors from Treblinka who the director persuaded to return from Israel) and the Polish train driver (from the cover of the DVD) who drove many of the trains the final distance of their journey to the execution camp at Treblinka.
The film uses a very simple style of documentary camerawork which at times borders on tedious (the scenes of industrial factories in the Ruhr for example) and in certain cases (with the German senior officer from Treblinka especially) seemingly on a secretive basis to capture the interview. The scenes with the Polish people who lived near the camps and the historian commenting on the diary of the Jewish leader of the Warsaw Ghetto sadly underline how easy it is to be critical from a distance when the sad truth is nobody is likely to have acted much differently if ever placed in the same invidious position. The real revelations are often in the side comments such as the German commandant commenting on how reliant they were on Latvian and Ukrainian guards to accomplish their tasks, or the comments by Jan Karski whose own book "Diary of a secret state" is a longer expose of the key points he makes in the film about what it was actually like to visit the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw.
So if the film is so powerful in all these areas why do I only award three stars? One of the key problems for me is Lanzmann - he seems to me to be be a terrible interviewer and often irritates with his restatement of facts or pursuing points, when someone else is doing the translating, relentlessly and to little overall benefit. In particular his lack of appreciating how the German strategy developed very piecemeal from the Himmler/Heydrich end (now well documented in the recent books by Christopher Browning especially) results in his few interviews with the German military coming across as being more about just trying to catch them out.
The other aspect is that after nine hours I found myself wondering if a lot of the repetitive filming of certain locations was actually not helping the main story and rather than marvel at its length I was questioning if lopping a few hours off would have made for a sharper final documentary. Compared with the Ophuls comparable classic "The sorrow and the pity" which is a masterpiece of precision, Lanzmann's opus despite its noble intentions comes across as flabby and at times floundering.
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