The place has forgotten - or so it seems - and Lanzmann's serene photography belies the memories recounted by the voices juxtaposed against them. Each of these has found their own way to either rationalise or disengage from what happened - the majority of interviewees speak in a perfunctory manner, describing their experiences in intricate factual detail. This is precisely what Lanzmann wants from them, to provide evidence where none exists. Even if in his eyes it incriminates themselves. They find it much easier to go back the numbers; it means that they do not have to go back to the people. Some of the most gut-wrenching moments come when emotion floods in and testimonies must be halted to regain composure. These small instances regularly occur in the film's second half - or 'Second Era' as it is referred to - which is perfectly judged as the force builds up cumulatively across the nine hours.
It does initially take time to adjust to the conversations with Poles, which are conducted through an interpreter but this effect eventually adds to the undeniable remove. Such sequences occur largely in the 'First Era', as does Lanzmann's anti-Polish sentiment which mired Shoah in controversy. He has confirmed that his aim was to admonish the Polish people for allowing the concentration camps - whilst ignoring those that helped and hid Jews, not to mention the countless deaths of citizens under the Nazi occupation. It is just one element of a rich work full of natural conflict, though, and if Lanzmann's primary intention was for the film to condemn Poland, it is far from successful. Of course, this is not the main objective, but a small part of a far weightier and more impressive tapestry. One which can be stitched into wider discourse and should never be overlooked in any meaningful examination of the Holocaust.
Claude Lanzmann's Shoah is now available to watch in full on Mubi at mubi.com/films/shoah.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson