Claude Lanzmann. Photo: ShortsTV.

Claude Lanzmann (1925–2018)

The French filmmaker and journalist Claude Lanzmann has died at age ninety-two in Paris. Lanzmann was known for his groundbreaking Holocaust film Shoah (1985), which chronicled the genocide through interviews with survivors and perpetrators; restaged scenes featuring actors; and creative cinematography. Rather than create a straightforward documentary—the nine-hour work includes no archival footage—Lanzmann intended the film to be “a fiction of the real,” employing artful techniques “to make the unbearable bearable.”

Born in 1925, Lanzmann fought in the resistance as a teenager and then studied philosophy at the Sorbonne after World War II. After meeting Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Lanzmann was invited to join the board of their journal, Les Temps Modernes. Lanzmann began a relationship with de Beauvoir, and they lived together from 1952 to 1959. Lanzmann became the journal’s editor in chief following de Beauvoir’s death in 1986, a role he held for the rest of his life. In the 1950s and ’60s, Lanzmann first started immersing himself in journalism, reporting on Israel, North Korea, and Tibet. He was among the intellectuals that signed the open letter “Manifesto of the 121,” which condemned the French government’s actions in Algeria. In 1973, he released his first documentary, Why Israel? His second film, Shoah, took eleven years to make, and was hailed by Marcel Ophüls as “the greatest documentary about contemporary history ever made.” More than three hundred hours of raw footage from the film, along with transcripts, are available on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website.

Writing on Lanzmann’s film The Last of the Unjust (2013) in Artforum’s February 2014 issue, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote of the filmmaker that “the conversation that he launches is as much with his audience—and with the silence of history—as it is with his interview subject.”