THE LAST OF THE UNJUST (LE DERNIER DES INJUSTES) (Claude Lanzmann, 2013)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Alice Tully Hall, 1941 Broadway at 65th St.
Sunday, September 29, 1:00 pm
Festival runs September 27 - October 13
For forty years, French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann has been documenting the Holocaust and the birth of the state of Israel in such provocative and powerful films as Israel, Why; Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 P.M.; and his nine-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, Shoah. In 1997, he made A Visitor from the Living, built around a 1979 interview with International Red Cross worker Maurice Rossel, who led a delegation inspecting the Nazis’ so-called “model ghetto” of Theresienstadt, which turned out to be a glorified concentration camp. Lanzmann returns to the Czech camp in The Last of the Unjust, an utterly fascinating 218-minute documentary consisting of a series of interviews he conducted in Rome in 1975 with Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, the only Jewish Elder to survive the Holocaust. For years, Murmelstein, who was appointed directly by and reported to Obersturmbannführer Adolph Eichmann, has been declared a Nazi collaborator, by writer Hannah Arendt and many others, even being arrested, imprisoned, and tried by Czech authorities. But in The Last of the Unjust, he paints a vivid portrait of everyday life in Theresienstadt, claiming he was not a collaborator but instead was doing whatever he could to improve conditions for the Jews there.
He poignantly describes not knowing about gas chambers and trains to Auschwitz and proudly defends his actions, referring to himself as the “last of the unjust.” Murmelstein has a spectacular memory, vividly recalling specific moments, answering all of Lanzmann’s questions with a bold honesty and correcting long-held misbeliefs concerning Theresienstadt. A cool, cigarette-smoking Lanzmann is seen in the old interviews and he also appears in new footage shot as he visits the camp and other relevant locations, geographically linking the past and the present. Between Murmelstein’s amazing storytelling ability and Lanzmann’s sharing of his personal perspective, the film never gets boring or repetitive over the course of its three-and-a-half-hour length. In the written introduction, Lanzmann states, “It took me a long time to come to the realization that I didn’t have the right to keep this to myself.” He has indeed done a great service by not keeping this to himself, making yet another poignant document of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of a unique and thoroughly intriguing witness. An official selection of the New York Film Festival, The Last of the Unjust is screening September 29 at 1:00 at Alice Tully Hall, followed by a Q&A with the eighty-seven-year-old Lanzmann.