Reflections on Shoah| Essay
Updated: May 31, 2022
Shoah helps its audience truly comprehend the aftermath of the Holocaust. In the film's 9+ hour-long runtime, director Claude Lanzman interviews Holocaust survivors about one of the cruelest events in human history. His intricate and detailed approach to the art of the interview brings out the interviewee's feelings in a way that is deeper than any other method. I had never watched such a methodical style of interviewing and most of Shoah contains such interviews (aside from one interview with a SS officer about the gas chamber), along with moments of quiet and meditative venturing to locations related to the Holocaust.
The first shot of the film displays two people on a boat flowing down a river. It's a very quiet scene, with the sounds of passing water and one of them softly singing. Later, Lanzman cuts to the man on the boat calmly singing, albeit much louder than before, as the camera zooms in on the expression on his face. The man and Lanzman walk over to an abandoned concentration camp. The infrastructure of the camp is long gone, all that remains is the outline in the ground. The man stands quietly and pans side to side along the horizon where the camp once was. He is quiet at first and then begins to talk about this particular location. This scene outlines the fabric of Shoah. For much of the film, the audience is introduced to a location, then promptly observes it for a few seconds to truly grasp the essence of that location, and then listens to a person's personal account of that spot. That is what's so special about Shoah. It doesn't race through the different places and people in the attempt to limit the telling of a person's history and thus ignoring the meditative aspect of the film. Instead, it does the opposite. Shoah's runtime is not overly bloated because it would be ignorant to dismiss the feelings of a person and their history associated with such a place. The 9+ hour runtime is filled with stories of people's experiences with one of the worst acts in human history that are in need of telling to the world. This is truly the importance and beauty of documentaries and cinema.
Shoah shines a light on the lives of people who have endured the Holocaust by using filmmaking as a way to express their stories and feelings about the event in a way much more powerful and in-depth than any other art form. It would be wrong to rate films like Shoah because they help the viewer to understand and examine the real horror and suffering these individuals have gone through and should be treated more like an experience. And that is what makes this film so special and unique --- it's an experience every bit as it is a work of art.
Time Stamp: June 2021