Shoah

Shoah

There was a tiny sign...a sign that said Treblinka.

I recently went through the entire list, writing down each and every film that clocked in at over 3 hours that I had yet to see, so that I could simultaneously watch some films side by side along one of the longer ones at a time, as I saw them piece by piece – the only way I could get through some of them (I’m looking at you, Jeanne Dielman…). For films that were exceptionally long, even by these standards, I wrote stars next to them to signify that these I needed to get out of the way hopefully sooner rather than putting them off. When I was finished, the one film that had more stars than any other was Shoah, a documentary about the Holocaust that runs over nine incredible hours.

When I say that this film is about the Holocaust, I don’t mean an isolated part of it like most other Holocaust documentaries that don’t have the time to literally encompass the entire subject. Shoah has nothing but time to do so, and it chooses to spend it entirely inside the Nazi death camps – the ones that actually killed Jews rather than just held them prisoner, as well as those who survived such camps. That’s about as much summary as I can give, as it is general enough to really encapsulate the entire film without spending 9 hours to do so. However, with Shoah it never really feels like it is deliberately extending time, other than in some snippets of interview, which I’ll get to soon enough. Shoah is an epic on a muted scale, one that investigates every aspect of its subject more thoroughly than any other film in the history of theatrical documentaries.

The director, Claude Lanzmann, spends an exhaustive amount of time (years, really) cataloguing as much about these people and what they endured as he possibly can, starting foremost with the survivors, whom which he interviews with painful detail. Where any other documentary would edit around long stretches of interview to find the good bits and piece them together, Shoah seems to include just about everything, even though it would be impossible for the film to do so as the raw footage clocked in at well over 300 hours, so something had to have been cut even though I can’t imagine what. And that’s essentially the film; interview to interview, place to place, setting to setting, the film envelopes you so thoroughly in its material that it becomes impossible not to empathize with the interviewees, and once you start empathizing with them, that’s when the feelings start emerging – you experience fully what they went through, and for that this documentary succeeds so far beyond other Holocaust documentaries that it is staggering.

I could go on and on about this one, mostly because it goes on and on about itself, but at some point I feel I’d just be repeating things I’ve already said. Can I recommend this? Not in one sitting, I couldn’t; anyone who gets through this one entirely in one sitting deserves a badge of honor. Over several evenings, though, historians will definitely get something out of it. Just be aware what you’re getting into once you begin.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

Also, befitting the length of this film, this set a new record for longest post on this site. Let’s see how long this one’ll last.

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