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SHOAH

France, 1985 (MIFF 1987)

Director: Claude Lanzmann

Without using a single frame of archival footage, this film relentlessly and rigorously investigates the implementation of Hitlers Final Solution for the Jews of Europe. Lanzmann interviews survivors, personnel and civilian bystanders of the extermination camps, questioning them persistently and mercilessly. He also journeys to the sites of the former camps with camera and crew, producing an eerie form of poetry. Repeated shots of train journeys and railway stations, empty of people, punctuate the film, miming the last purney of countless victims with a kind of bleached pathos that evokes presence in absence. Lanzmann spent years tracing the protagonists of his film - perpetrators, participants, victims and witnesses - and amassed 350 hours of footage, which he edited down to the final nine and a half hour version. His obsessive quest and painstaking labour have resulted in a film that is both detached and engaged, horrific and beautiful, chilling and rivetting, a documentary and an art film.

"It isn't easy to talk about Shoah. There is magic in this film and magic can't be explained. After the war we read quantities of testimony on the ghettos and extermination camps; we were horrified. But, on seeing Lanzmann's film,
we realise that we knew nothing at all. Despite all previous knowledge, the ghastly experience remained outside of
ourselves. Now, for the first time, we experience it in our heads, hearts and flesh. It becomes ours. Neither fiction
nor documentary, Shoah achieves a recreation of the past with an astonishing economy of means: places, voices,
faces. Claude Lanzmann's great art lies in making places speak, resuscitating them through voices and then going even beyond words extracting the unspeakable through faces... I, like all spectators, combine past and present. It is this merging that makes Shoah magical. I might also add that never could I have conceived of such a union between horror and beauty. One in fact does not serve to mask the other - aestheticism isn't at issue - but serves rather to illuminate with such inventiveness and rigour that we are aware of viewing a great work. A sheer
masterpiece."

Simone de Beauvoir, Le Monde

"Until now, films that attempted to deal with the Holocaust have tried to bring it to life through the distorting means of history and chronology: starting in 1933 with the Nazi rise to power - or even before... They attempt to lead us, year by year, stage by stage, almost harmoniously, so to speak, to the extermination. As if the extermination of six million men women and children, as if any such mass murder, can be brought to life.

There are clearly reasons and explanations for the destruction of six million Jews... Each of these explanations (whether psychoanalytic, sociologica,l economical, religious, etc), taken individually or all together, is both true and false at the same time. That is to say these explanations are perfectly insufficient: even were they the necessary condition for genocide they are not the sufficient condition. In no way can the destruction of the Jews of Europe be logically or mathematically deduced from them. Between the conditions that allowed the extermination and the extermination itself- the fact of extermination - there is a discontinuity, a gap, a leap, an abyss.

Legends are never laid to rest by pitching them against memories. They must, if possible, be confronted in the inconceivable present from which they draw their being. The only way to achieve this is precisely by resuscitating the past and making it present, by resuscitating it in a timeless present. The Holocaust today is legendary in all different sorts of ways. It has all the characteristics of a mythical account: as knowledge of the unknowable, it is blurred, vague and stereotyped. And as with all myths there are some strong spirits, more and more in number, who are asking whether after ali, it really happened. If today books can be written about The Myth Of The Six Million or The Lie About Auschwitz it is surely because all reality of the Holocaust is dissolving at one and the same time into both the dim distance and the stereotyped profundity of myth, without it ever having been properly transmitted.

That is why a film on the Holocaust must have as its golden rule the rejection of memory, the rejection of remembering. The worst crime, from both a moral and artistic standpoint, in making a film devoted to the Holocaust, is to regard the Holocaust as something in the past. The Holocaust is, by turns, legend and present; it is never, in any circumstances, a question of memory. My film is a counter-myth - that is an investigation into the Holocaust's present. At the very least it is an investigation into the scars left by a past on places and on people's minds that are still so fresh and unhealed that this past gives the strange impression of being outside of time."

Claude Lanzmann (translated from the French by Jonathan Davis)

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