Cinema Elvire Popesco - French Institute
Admission is free of charge.
France, 1985, 550'
French, Hebrew, German, Polish
"It’s hard to recognize, but this was it. They used to burn people here. Yes, this is the place." (Simon Srebnik in Shoah)
"What’s important is the precision of the details. I did not make an idealistic film. I did not ask big questions, I did not give big ideological or metaphysical answers. I made a film of a geographer, of a topographer." (Claude Lanzmann)
This film has never been shown in Romania. When it premiered, 28 years ago, there wasn’t a Holocaust to speak of here. After the end of the golden age, the inter-war period seemed to many a golden era, while others were busier with balancing the Nazi crimes with the communist ones. Time went by, and the Holocaust was never a priority of collective remembering; at most, it was an obligation fulfilled by official statements.
The nine and a half hours of Lanzmann’s film are a physical and emotional experience that can start to compensate this void. There was a lot of talk surrounding the film about the author’s refusal to use archive footage, a commentary and historical documents. Relying only on survivors, on witnesses who revisit the places of genocide, Lanzmann leaves you to imagine that which can not be otherwise represented, an unimaginable horror.
Shoah is not only important because it manages to transmit the experience of extermination, but also because it revolutionized the documentary method. Documentary film was never the same again after Lanzmann used this radical approach, innovative at the time. Watch it: then you will discover – in many of the films from our selection – echoes of a way to make cinema and to live the memory. And you will look differently at what happens in the world now.
“I don’t ask the big questions, for I fear getting small answers,” claims a historian in Claude Lanzmann’s epic, exhaustive chronicle of the Holocaust. “I concentrate on details, minutiae.” Just over nine hours long, Shoah is the documentarian's own attempt to examine the unfathomable by obsessively cataloguing fractured testimonies and tiny fragments of information. Survivors and former SS officers recount how concentration-camp inmates were transported, gassed and herded into crematoriums. Cameras peer around the ruins of Chelmno, Birkenau and Treblinka as first-person narration discusses corpse disposal and crowd control. The more an "inconsequential" aspect of such inhumanities is recounted, the more Lanzmann slowly, cumulatively colors in a vast canvas on mass murder.
Since its release 25 years ago, this film has become everything from a critical feud starter, to a perverse punch line regarding marathon-length cinematic downers, to an example of celluloid journalism par excellence. Shoah’s ultimate legacy, however, is being the final word on the Final Solution – one that renders every well-intentioned dramatic re-creation of such horrors into repulsive Ausch-kitsch by comparison. Tellingly, faded archival pictures are eschewed for thousands of words, and even when participants sob on camera or aged Nazis get the "gotcha" treatment, there’s nothing voyeuristic about the way this oral history bears witness. Yes, this is a monolithic work that requires commitment. It’s also a perpetually present-tense reminder that human beings experienced these horrors, that the abyss must be looked into even if we can never truly understand such things, that this atrocity must never fall victim to the memory loss of time.