The Holocaust is a tricky subject to capture well in cinema. Recreations can be weak or unrealistic, but we do have at least a few films which have hit the nail on the head, so to speak. Here are the ten best, ranked down from ten.
10: Sarah’s Key (2011)
This surprisingly well-formed but occasionally weak drama based on the novel, is a compelling work of investigation into the past, the uncovering of hidden secrets and the crumbling effect such events have. Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner weaves an intricate web of discovery, revelation and confrontation with the past. Powerful, but not brilliant.
9: The Pianist (2002)
Roman Polanski’s explosive drama about the eventful life of a Jewish pianist is one of the more compelling modern biopics. As a Holocaust piece it works well, but as a piece about a man’s scarred lifetime, it is a masterpiece. The talent of both Polanski and star Adrien Brody are prominent, making this an extremely enjoyable experience.
8: La Vita e Bella (1997)
When the Jews first arrived at the concentration camps, their was a general feeling of optimism which was soon brutally quashed. That optimism seems pertinent to remain in the main character of this film, Guido, whose philosophy seems to live up to this film’s title: la vita é bella: life is beautiful. Optimism in its fullest form is a rare sight in films like these, but in Roberto Benigni’s film, the main character Guido (played suitably by Benigni himself) expresses a rare love for the world around him, in all of its ugliness at the time, which is what makes this film unique.
7: Judgment at Nuremberg (1962)
Anyone with a knowledge of the events spurred on by the Holocaust must surely know about the Nuremberg trials. In this film, much of the trial is fictionalized, but based heavily on true events. This is a gritty and unforgiving look into the harsh genocide that took place, but moreso of the ripples of wordwide reaction it caused.
6: Come and See (1985)
Making a film more violent does not necessarily make it more effective. But in this particular case, it works tremendously. Elem Klimov’s Idi i Smotri (eng: Come and See, a reference to the apocalyptic conclusion of the Bible) is a shocking, disturbing look at a wartorn land fraught with panic, murder and hundreds of thousands of bodies. The camera glides through scenes of mass destruction and some of the images are likely to make you feel sick. Despite the harshness, it is a brilliant film, and not the only one to take a look at war from the perspective of children. Cue #5…
5: Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)
It’s hard to address this as Louis Malle’s semi-autobiographical film, because almost all of his movies are semi-autobiographical. But Au Revoir les Enfants perhaps comes closest to real life. A young man befriends a Jewish boy who is hiding in his school, but the movie is not as soft as is suggested. The harrowing, realistic pace adds to the melodrama, and the film’s chilling eventual conclusion is scary enough without learning that this all happened to Malle.
4: The Sorrow and the Pity (1970)
Not the most accessible documentary about the awful atrocities that occured to the French during the Holocaust, but definitely a powerful one. It contains extended interviews with both sides of the war, from French liberators to Fascist embracers, and reminds us of the fragility of the period and how France has never quite been the same since the war.
3: Schindler’s List (1993)
Containing some of the best acting you’ll see in a Holocaust film, particularly one with American actors, Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece is a hellish, realistic and shocking look at a single man’s attempts to save as many Jews as possible by employing them in his factories. The movie is not the most violent on this list, but violence is there. Spielberg wisely does not shy away from it, and if he feels it is necessary, will show death coldly and bluntly. It is the best American film ever made about the Holocaust, by far, and it still shocks and entices with its raw power and silent contemplation.
2: Night and Fog (1955)
A film that somehow manages to be even more shocking than Come and See or Schindler’s List is Alan Resnais’ thirty minute wonder Nuit et Brouillard, which goes through the entire process of concentration camp administration from their initial construction and operation to the dreaded “Final Solution” in all of its gutwrenching solidarity. Francois Truffaut called this film “the greatest movie ever made,” and for many French men and women, it is as frightening as it is rawly compelling. There are images of real death here, some stock footage and images that will heavily disturb, but Night and Fog is a necessary masterpiece, which we close our eyes and try to avoid even as it tells us to keep them open and observe.
1: Shoah (1985)
More than nine hours and not a single piece of footage from the war. Not a frame. No, Claude Lanzmann’s heartbreaking, transfixing documentary is a retrospective work. He doesn’t want us to live in the past, just to briefly dwell on it and remember it. Watching this in a completely silent room from 9pm until 6am, I never got tired or bored for a second. Though there are no dead bodies or gruesome photographs here, Lanzmann presents us with the stuff of nightmares. We see long, lush landscapes, now peaceful and silent, while we learn that the places we are looking at are where the unspeakable atrocities occured. A chill runs down our spine. We don’t need to see the acts to feel their brutal, lasting impact. In a sequence as disturbing as it is awkward, Lanzmann interviews a barber who cut off the hair of Jewish woman. He asks simple, almost irrelevant questions, but slowly begins to wear the man down to the point in which he is unable to answer. Some of the interviews with Nazi officials were recorded in secret, illegally captured, but it is completely worth it. The images evoked by some of their testimonies are haunting, and once they’re in your mind it’s almost impossible to get them out. This is the power of Claude Lanzmann’s documentary: what’s implied is scarier than what’s seen. And for this reason primarily, Shoah is the greatest film ever made about the Holocaust.
Anything you’d like to add? Thoughts? Which of these have you seen? Which continue to evade you? What films could you add? Leave a comment below.
Let’s get a couple of things straight: I am a movie fanatic. I love movies. If ever there were movie lovers, I would make the list by a mile. But alas, I have not been a movie lover my whole life. It was only at the end of 2009, I decided to make a New Years resolution: get more into movies. And so, over the course of 2010, I scoured through all the shortlists of great movies and tried to knock off as many as I could. Of the famous 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, I have seen 193 movies, and counting. When I first purchased the book at the beginning of 2010, I’d only seen 51. I was not experienced with movies, they’d never really interested me. But when I delved into the complex and invigorating wonderland that is film, I fell in love with it. Now more than a year later, I am a fanatic. Every day I watch two movies, minimum, and 80% of the time they are movies I’ve never seen before. I have a Hell of a time checking all those movies off my must-see list and I believe I’ve only ever seen around 600-700 movies in my entire lifetime. Not many. I keep a regular log of the movies I watch, and always write reviews of at least three or four sentences. I give the films a rating on a scale of one to ten, and there are only about 25 movies I’ve ever rated ten. I’m relatively young, too, so I have my whole life ahead of me to complete the difficult challenge of becoming a true movie know-it-all. This is my goal. Before 2010, I barely ever went to the theatre. Now I go at least two or three times a month, wisely choosing which I view. Though it’s healthy to watch a substantial amount of rubbish movies (to help you better appreciate the definition of a good movie), I tend to stick more to classics and more well-received movies.
I have a Top 10o Movies List, ranking my favourite one hundred movies, and I intend to post the list to my blog soon enough. Until then, I will keep watching the movies, reviewing and letting my opinion be heard. Here’s a checklist of movies I really want to see, and I will gradually check each one off.
In random order:
The Seventh Seal The Third Man
Come and See
Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi
Gone With the Wind
It’s A Wonderful Life
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Citizen Kane Wild Strawberries
Singin’ In The Rain
Judgment at Nuremberg
Any of the films of Federico Fellini, but particularly La Strada and 8 1/2
Any of the films of Woody Allen (I’ve only seen Annie Hall, gasp!)
The King of Comedy
The Godfather: Part III
Rosemary’s Baby (well, not necessarily this, but anything by Polanski)
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Spartacus (the only Kubrick I haven’t seen!)
The Straight Story (the only Lynch I haven’t seen!)
Any popular sport movie that does not star Rosie O’Donnell
All About My Mother The Decalogue
Any movie that lasts longer than 3 hours (I’m a freak for excessively long movies!)
On The Waterfront
Any of the great, surreal cinematic masterpieces of the 1920s or 1960s, the two most eventful periods for film development.
That one with that guy who was in that movie that was out last year?
So I think, off the top of my head, that’s basically the list. Please, tell me in the comments what you think of these movies if you’ve seen any of them. I know I’ll get around to watching them all eventually. Did you like them? Did you hate them? Inform me, and when I check them off, I’ll be sure to write a review. BTW, if I had to place one of these at the top of the list of must-sees, it would be Nashville. I’m a complete Altman whore.
Thanks for reading.