REVIEW: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah [2015]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 40 minutes | Release Date: 2015 (USA)
Studio: HBO Documentary Films
Director(s): Adam Benzine
Writer(s): Adam Benzine

“Claude used to be a friend of mine—he no longer is.”

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah is a document of a documentarian: a time capsule of the twelve-year gestation of what’s possibly the greatest non-fiction works in cinematic history. Shoah‘s a ten-hour look at the Holocaust’s devastation via survivors and perpetrators in varying modes of interview whether out in the open or through hidden cameras, so no one would believe its director if he told Adam Benzine stories about the wonderful experience had during its creation. His was a film about death and anguish—attributes Lanzmann himself felt every single step along the journey. It’s unsurprising to therefore hear about violent interviewees or unplanned suicide attempts because putting such tragedy on film is to live within its horrors amidst the potential you too may succumb to its evil.

Benzine begins his 40-minute behind-the-scenes look with outsiders familiar with Lanzmann and his genius. Marcel Ophüls admits how they used to be friends until Claude’s megalomania got in the way. Could Shoah have been made without a megalomaniac at its back, though? He didn’t even necessarily want the project, but once he accepted the job he took it seriously. A commissioned work that weighed heavily on his mind before agreeing birthed an immense struggle as far as finding a theme and voice with which to capture the essence of mankind’s greatest regret. He can’t be blamed for remembering the burden and responsibility thrust upon him nor the pressure to deliver a two-hour film in two years time despite two hundred hours of footage captured over seven years time.

What’s most intriguing, though, is the mirroring of past and present through Benzine interviewing Lanzmann much the same way he did his subjects. Right after watching the Claude massage Abraham Bomba out of his tear-streaked memory to speak on his personal emotions watching the slaughter of innocents rather than a clinical, detached account, Benzine does the same to learn how dangerous Shoah‘s production was. A story about meeting Heinz Schubert commences wherein Lanzmann and assistant Corinna almost lost their lives. It’s a piece of history I assume never made the final cut thanks to a caption: “previously unseen footage”. But it’s an important detail of Lanzmann’s life and the Holocaust’s saga. It shows the Nazis were cognizant of their crimes and desperate to remain hidden.

This short is an important companion to Shoah because it shows the lengths necessary to find truth while shining a light on the journalistic integrity of documentary which may or may not be so carefully adhered to nowadays with so many projects released each year. Lanzmann was a journalist first and foremost and he approached this project from that vocation’s perspective. He devoted over a decade of his life to give the world an art piece of importance and austere purpose—a beauty even in its representation of a moment in time never to be forgotten. To find truth is never easy and Lanzmann admits his journey was anything but. It almost destroyed him and yet he says it’d have been worth it if it had.

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah debuts on HBO in May, 2016.

courtesy of Shorts HD

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