The Last of the Unjust

 

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Claude Lanzmann adds memorably to his films investigating the horrors of Nazi Germany.

 

Last of the Unjust, The

 

Over the years the documentarian filmmaker Claude Lanzmann who was born in Paris in 1925 has devoted himself to historical subjects. Works of his not seen here have put the focus on Israel and on Algeria but his key subject has been the Holocaust. Shoah (1985) lasting over nine hours remains the best ever feature film about the Nazi concentration camps but other somewhat more succinct and concentrated pieces focussing in detail on specific events have shown the same commitment, skill and duty to historical truth. One such was Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m. (2001) and now we have what, given his age, could well be his final work of this kind, The Last of the Unjust, a masterly film about Benjamin Murmelstein.

 

Lasting all of 220 minutes but never less than riveting, Lanzmann’s film elaborates on footage that had it been used in the earlier context would have unbalanced Shoah by considering at length the controversial figure of Murmelstein who had been one of the three Elders of the Jews attached to the Theresienstadt ghetto and the only one of them to survive the war. These Elders were men who stood as the link between the people sent to the ghetto and those who were running it, a role that carried power and privileges denied to other Jews and caused many to regard them as traitors who should be branded as collaborationists.

 

The Last of the Unjust invites us to consider how fair or unfair this attitude was, and in doing so it shows us Lanzmann visiting Theresienstadt in recent times intercut with historical footage of that site in the Nazi era. It also enables us to hear what Murmelstein had to say to Lanzmann when interviewed by him in Rome in 1985. As ever, Lanzmann maintains a quiet, level-headed tone while allowing the horrendous facts to speak for themselves. In addition Lanzmann reads from a book by Murmelstein and yet he leaves it to each viewer to reach his or her own conclusion as to the integrity or otherwise of his intelligent interviewee. This may be demanding viewing (and I do favour watching it with an intermission), but Claude Lanzmann in his late eighties retains his dedication to providing testimonies of value not just for historians but for anyone concerned about the human condition.             

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

  

Featuring  Benjamin Murmelstein, Claude Lanzmann. 

 

Dir Claude Lanzmann, Pro David Frenkel, Jean Labadie and Danny Krausz, Screenplay Claude Lanzmann, Ph Willian Lubtchansky and Caroline Champetier, Ed Chantal Hymans.

 

Synecdoche/Le Pacte/Dor Film/Les Films Aleph production/France 3 Cinéma/Canal+-Eureka Entertainment.
220 mins. France/Austria. 2013. Rel: 9 January 2015. No Cert.