Lanzmann's 'Last Of The Unjust' A Provocative Holocaust Film

Feb 7, 2014
Originally published on February 7, 2014 10:26 am



Director Claude Lanzmann is a known for making long documentaries about the Holocaust. In 1985, he released a nine-and-a-half hour film called "Shoah," about concentration camps in Poland. Now Lanzmann is back with another look at the Holocaust.

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan says "The Last of the Unjust" is worth your time.

KENNETH TURAN: At the advanced age of 87, Claude Lanzmann has directed one of his most provocative films. Not because he wanted to but because he felt he had to. Benjamin Murmelstein, the subject of "The Last of the Unjust," was the last surviving head of the Jewish Councils. These were set up to run, under Nazi supervision, World War II ghettos and concentration camps.

Lanzmann extensively interviewed Murmelstein back in 1975, and what he said has haunted the director ever since.

BENJAMIN MURMELSTEIN: (Foreign language spoken)

TURAN: Murmelstein's belief that not all the martyrs in Theresienstadt, the camp he administered were saints, is one of the key points made in this three hour and 38-minute film. It's a meditation on the nature of good and evil that tackles head on the question of whether people like Murmelstein were collaborators who should be condemned, or realists who made the best of a completely nightmarish situation.

Lanzmann investigates the gray area in what many think of as a black and white issue. Murmelstein is articulate and unabashed, a man of formidable intelligence and a persuasive talker who is well aware that his actions have enraged people. The literary character he most identifies with is Don Quixote's pragmatic, calculating sidekick Sancho Panza.

MURMELSTEIN: (Foreign language spoken)

TURAN: Whether or not Murmelstein will convince anyone that his actions were justified is an open question, but his charged conversation with Lanzmann makes you think about the unthinkable. That is an accomplishment in and of itself.

MONTAGNE: That's critic Kenneth Turan on the new documentary, "The Last of the Unjust." He reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the L.A. Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.