Shoah  (1985)

PopGap #17: Shoah (1985)

 
By dorrk, May 18th 2016
The Movie Slot Machine: 12 Random Movies, One Specific Viewer

Shoah is a nine-and-a-half hour documentary about the operation of German death camps within Poland as the Nazi government attempted to exterminate the Jewish people during World War II. Using footage shot only by his own crew during the 1970s, director Claude Lanzmann visits the sites of the atrocities — Sobibor, Chelmo, Treblinka, and Auschwitz — and interviews Germans tasked with logistical management, Poles who lived and worked in the neighboring villages, and, devastatingly, a few surviving Jewish prisoners who were assigned to "special details" facilitating the relentless schedule of mass murders.

As a document of one of the darkest periods in history, Shoah is a monumental achievement, and one that is nearly impossible to evaluate as just a movie. While the film's length is challenging, it's never indulgent. Lanzmann's excellent team of cinematographers — Dominique Chapuis, Jimmy Glasberg, Phil Gries and William Lubtchansky — set a visual tone in their on-location footage that perfectly complements the sober and stark but natural tenor of the interview segments. Although some have criticized Lanzmann's intent — which is a little too focused on accusing Poland of anti-semitic complicity — or nitpicked technical issues, there's no avoiding the astonishing determination fueling the project or the brutal honesty of the testimonies, which makes all political or formal complaints feel myopic. Through his rigorous research and choice of interviewees — Filip Müller, Abraham Bomba, Mordechaï Podchlebnik, Rudolf Vrba, Simon Srebnik — Lanzmann has, at the very least, captured a harrowing picture of how Germany's genocidal infrastructure paradoxically preyed as much on hope as it did fear, and the candid, personal first-hand accounts of Jews working in and near the gas chambers are astounding on many levels.

Shoah is difficult, and flawed, and profoundly upsetting; but it's fascinating, important, and deeply human in ways that few movies — even most documentaries — come within miles of broaching.

Trailer for Shoah (1985)

Beware: Galleries may contain spoilers.
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The Top 20 Movies of All-Time

#1: The Godfather Part II (1974)

#1: The Godfather Part II (1974)

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#2: The Godfather (1972)

#2: The Godfather (1972)

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#3: West Side Story (1961)

#3: West Side Story (1961)

Dir: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise
#4: Manhattan (1979)

#4: Manhattan (1979)

Dir: Woody Allen
#5: The Graduate (1967)

#5: The Graduate (1967)

Dir: Mike Nichols
#6: Tootsie (1982)

#6: Tootsie (1982)

Dir: Sydney Pollack
#7: Apocalypse Now (1979)

#7: Apocalypse Now (1979)

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#8: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

#8: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Dir: Irvin Kershner
#9: Star Wars (1977)

#9: Star Wars (1977)

Dir: George Lucas
#10: The Exorcist (1973)

#10: The Exorcist (1973)

Dir: William Friedkin
#11: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

#11: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Dir: Peter Jackson
#12: Taxi Driver (1976)

#12: Taxi Driver (1976)

Dir: Martin Scorsese
#13: Annie Hall (1977)

#13: Annie Hall (1977)

Dir: Woody Allen
#14: Vertigo (1958)

#14: Vertigo (1958)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
#15: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

#15: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Dir: Steven Spielberg
#16: Boogie Nights (1997)

#16: Boogie Nights (1997)

Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
#17: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

#17: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Dir: Tobe Hooper
#18: It's a Wonderful Life (1944)

#18: It's a Wonderful Life (1944)

Dir: Frank Capra
#19: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

#19: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Dir: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
#20: Zodiac (2007)

#20: Zodiac (2007)

Dir: David Fincher