Though Claude Lanzmann’s seminal Shoah catalogs one of the most horrifying events in the history of the world, it remains one of the most life-affirming works of art ever produced for the cinema. “The film is structured in a circular, concentric manner,” Lanzmann has said about this towering masterwork. Over the course of nine-and-a-half hours, dozens of Holocaust survivors share their stories of perseverance, their memories doubling back on each other in a way that’s never tiring, though Lanzmann explicitly uses repetition to point to a shared human consciousness. Every interview in the film is powerful enough to make its own documentary. (Indeed, Lanzmann’s conversation with Sobibor camp survivor Yehuda Lerner was so impossible to condense that he would release the entire film as a 95-minute standalone, the beautiful Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M.) Lanzmann doesn’t use stock footage to evoke the horrors of the Holocaust. Instead, he builds the past using tools that exist only in the present, summoning an unfathomable catastrophe with the voices and memories of survivors (not to mention their tears and pained expressions) and endless panoramic shots of bucolic countrysides. When one interviewee recalls how the screams of victims used to linger in the air outside a concentration camp, this memory haunts Lanzmann’s pastoral exteriors for the rest of the film. There’s an overwhelming sense here that nature itself has yet to recover from Hitler’s slaughter. Rather than use photographs of concentration camps, Lanzmann contends himself with elegiac shots of what remains of these houses of death (mostly skeletal foundations) in the modern world. Every anecdote in the film speaks for itself as a melancholic celebration of Jewish perseverance and an affront to any number of Nazi pathologies and rituals of denial. Nature in Shoah (and in Sobibor) is a living, breathing monument to the dead, and a beautiful reminder of what it feels like to roam free.
Courtesy of New Yorker video, Shoah gets a no-frills video and audio transfer on this four-disc set. The image and audio is documentary-quality all the way. There’s a curious amount of dirt and white flecks on the print that was used for this transfer, but it more or less adds to the film’s appeal as a haunting time capsule.
Only a Claude Lanzmann bio. What did you expect, a nine and a half hour commentary track?
New Yorker Video surely deserves some kind of humanitarian award for finally releasing Claude Lanzmann’s seminal Shoah on DVD.