Those Americans who are familiar with the name Claude Lanzmann most likely know him as the director of “Shoah,” his monumental 1985 documentary about the extermination of the European Jews in the Nazi gas chambers. As it turns out, though, the story of Lanzmann’s eventful life would have been well worth telling even if he had never come to direct “Shoah.” In addition to film director, Lanzmann’s roles have included those of journalist, editor, public intellectual, member of the French Resistance, long-term lover of Simone de Beauvoir and close friend of Jean-Paul Sartre, world traveler, political activist, ghostwriter for Jacques Cousteau — I could go on, but it’s a good deal more entertaining to hear Lanzmann himself go on, and thanks to the publication in English of his memoir, “The Patagonian Hare,” we now have the opportunity to do so. (previously)
The familiar '70s query, "Is it art or porn?," took on a whole new dimension with The Night Porter (NSFW), a stylish and astoundingly seamy fusion of erotica and stark concentration camp trauma. While many subsequent films, mostly Italian, took the Nazi sexploitation route to unbelievably tastless levels, Liliana Cavani's treatment remains more problematic. More concerned with mood and characterization than cheap thrills, the film is nevertheless extremely kinky and shocking enough to prove that its R rating is the product of a ratings system far different than the one we have now. [more inside]
"I would like to do better, to be better than I am". He's the French New Wave maverick and Academy Award winner (at 26, for his first short) who, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz -- with considerable personal pain and the admission that "no description, no picture can reveal the true dimension" of what happened in the camps -- made what François Truffaut called "the greatest film ever made", duly censored by French authorities. Four years later he baffled audiences with "the first modern film of sound cinema", shattering the rules of chronology to describe the “anguish of the future”: even if all he ever wanted was "to stop death in its tracks" (French language link), only for one minute. But he is also the unabashed lover of la bande dessinée who learnt English by reading comic books and in the Seventies dreamed (French language link) of making "Spider-Man" into a movie (the Hollywood studios were not convinced), the MGM old-school musical and operetta nut so in love with design that "half of the fashion photography of the past 40 years owes a debt" to him. Now, Alain Resnais' new work, just shown at the Venice Film Festival where his buddy David Lynch was awarded a lifetime achievement Golden Lion, is a French film inspired by an English play with 54 short scenes, music by the X-Files's Mark Snow. (more inside)
Eroica. Film director Andrzej Munk’s tragic death at age thirty-nine might have formed the plot for one of his own darkly sardonic works: a Polish Jew and an active resistance worker during the war, he was returning home from shooting his film Passenger at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1961 when an oncoming truck struck his car. He left behind only four feature films, but his influence was prodigious. As one of the key figures of the postwar “Polish School” of filmmaking, along with Wajda and Kawalerowicz, he helped to shape a vision that broke with the official social realist optimism of Eastern-bloc dogma and cast a skeptical eye on official notions of heroism, nationalism, and life in the Stalinist-occupied state. Mentor to Roman Polanski and Jerzy Skolimowski, his influence can be felt even in the films of a later generation of Polish filmmakers — directors like Zanussi and Kieslowski. More inside.