Claude Lanzmann's extraordinary nine-and-a-half-hour documentary (1985) is constructed as a series of approaches—through language, memory, and landscape—to a subject that can't be depicted: the Holocaust. Speaking with witnesses to the events, interpreting the apparent trivia of German train schedules, or (most powerfully) allowing his camera to roam the now-peaceful fields and forests of Poland where the exterminations took place, Lanzmann does not build his film chronologically but through patterns of repeated images. There is no historical footage in the film; the past emerges wholly through the present. In searching for the most vivid possible presentation of his subject, Lanzmann has been led to reinvent many of the principles of modernist and structuralist filmmaking, which here acquire a new kind of nonacademic urgency and justness. More than a treatment of a great subject, the film itself is a great achievement in form. In French with subtitles.
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