Last night, HBO premiered British filmmaker Adam Benzine’s Oscar-nominated documentary Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah. In interviews and dug-up footage, Benzine’s film traces the twelve-year production of Shoah, Lanzmann’s groundbreaking nine-hour 1985 Holocaust documentary. Shoah, which eschewed archival images and showed only contemporary interviews and footage, was a revolution in the documentary form, simultaneously hailed as a masterpiece and criticized for its unusual, occasionally controversial methodology.
In an interview published yesterday in the Hollywood Reporter, Lanzmann discusses Benzine’s film and the making of Shoah—whose completion, he says in Spectres, he experienced as a kind of “bereavement.” He also offers his thoughts on László Nemes’s 2015 film Son of Saul, about Jewish workers in Nazi concentration camps, and questions of fiction versus documentary:
“It’s a film about the Sonderkommando, not a film about the gas chamber. Nobody can testify about the gas chambers. You would need witnesses and there are no witnesses of what happened inside the gas chambers. But as a film about the life of the Sonderkommando, I think it’s very good [. . .] I wouldn’t even say that Son of Saul is a fiction film. This division between documentary and fiction has to be changed. Son of Saul is a fiction in many respects, but the fiction is the truth. Shoah is a fiction film too. Usually in a documentary film you’re filming something that exists or existed before—for Shoah, nothing existed. I had to make a pure creation and invent according to the truth.”