When you’re faced with something as heinous as the Holocaust, it’s tempting to turn it into a simple morality play. This isn’t to say one can’t pass moral judgments – Hitler and his cohort were undeniably evil. But judging can become a form of lazy evasion, a way of closing the book on the tricky realities of failure, guilt, and complicity.
Those complexities lie at the heart of The Last of the Unjust, the new documentary by Claude Lanzmann, the prickly Frenchman whose 1985 work Shoah is often called the best film about the Holocaust. But where Shoah is dauntingly austere – its 9 1/2 hours offer no commentary or archival footage – The Last of the Unjust has a vivid immediacy. It centers on one man, the late Benjamin Murmelstein, a Viennese rabbi reviled for his complicity with the Nazis. Lanzmann interviewed him for hours back in 1975, getting the pudgy, bespectacled, hyper-verbal Murmelstein to explain his side of the story.
Read John Powers' review of the documentary The Last of the Unjust
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