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The Ten Best Documentaries Ever Made

The Ten Best Movies Made About the Holocaust

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.

Foreign Films You Need To See That You Probably Haven’t!

Forgive me making assumptions in the title of this post, but the following”foreign” films (i.e., films that aren’t in English originally) are six that are not very widely seen. I’m not talking about big Kurosawa blockbusters or Bergman, but lesser known ones. But they all MUST be seen, if you can find them.

1: Dekalog (1988) (dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski)

This Polish masterpiece from the brilliant Krzysztof Kieslowski is probably his best film… if you can call it a film. It’s actually a series of ten hour long movies, totalling almost ten hours. They cover a wide range of emotions and scenarios, and together it is basically a representation of many of the dramas of life itself.

2: Night and Fog (1955) (dir. Alan Resnais)

Thirty minutes of starkly horrific, emotionally (and visually) graphic and extremely disturbing video and images of concentration camps, starvation, death and the discarding of millions of bodies and items might not sound appealing, but not only is this a must-see film, it’s an important film. Though you might feel sick or want to look away, it’s the same as ignoring the awful tragedies of our past as it is to miss out on an opportunity to see this film. It can be found on YouTube, in three parts; the first is below:

3: Shoah (1985) (dir. Claude Lanzmann)

The second Holocaust film on this list is my personal favourite. It is also substantially longer than 30 minutes; it’s 9 and a half hours. But believe me, it is worth every single minute. Unlike Night and Fog, it contains not a shred of imagery from the actual Holocaust times, but the pictures we do see are just as haunting, if not more so. We see where these atrocities happened, and as they look today. Seeing the places, a shiver runs down my spine. It’s a golden rule that so few horror movies (not that this is one) actually take heed of: what is implied is much scarier than what is seen. The more attractive part of the film is that it also contains various interviews with people both indirectly and directly involved in the massacre of the Jews, including a particularly memorable interview with a man who cut the hair of Jewish people. The interview starts off easy enough, but he quickly breaks down and is unable to answer. Shoah is a must-see film for anyone interested in this part of history, and it delivers what it promises in a manner I am forever thankful for.

4: The Hour of the Wolf (1968) (dir. Ingmar Bergman)

The closest to a real, terrifying horror film Ingmar Bergman ever directed is one of the surprisingly less-seen ones. The Hour of the Wolf has proved to be incredibly influential on modern horror (most notably Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island) and remains in itself a constantly intriguing, frightening puzzle. Max von Sydow edges closer to insanity than ever as an imperfect world begins to fracture and sanity splits in half. All those movies about the protagonist with a multiple personality owe a hell of a lot to this one, which really kick-started them all.

5: I Stand Alone (1998) (dir. Gaspar Noé)


Most people, when they think of Gaspar Noé, think of Irreversible or Enter the Void, and so do I, I suppose, but a film of his that is often glossed over or disliked because of its darker themes of suicide and incest is actually very interesting and quite good. It takes a look into the soul, mind, and dying heart of a man, known as The Butcher, angry at the world and attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter while fighting the demons inside him. Might sound clichéd if Hollywood were doing it, but it’s actually a very bleak, disturbing but affecting feature. The Butcher can be seen at the beginning of Irreversible, speaking a mantra that really stands for the suffocating isolation of his life and a mantra for which Noé has become known: “Time Destroys Everything.”

6: The Seventh Continent (1989), dir. Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke’s first cinematic feature film, and the first instalment in his brilliant Glaciation trilogy, is a must-see for any fan of Haneke. And yet, surprisingly, many of the Haneke fans I know have not seen it! His now immediately noticeable style of direction is present here as he chronicles the disturbing story of an entire family who mysteriously committed suicide. This is way up in my Top 5 from Haneke, and remains, like the more popular Caché and The Piano Teacher, a troubling look at the desperate, hidden truths of unhappy people.

So there you have it. Five great movies to add to your watchlist or queue. And I recommend adding them near the top. If you were disappointed with any of these fine movies, then I would be extremely surprised. They’re not all for everyone, but everyone should see them. If that makes sense.

Anything you’d like to say on the matter? Please, leave a comment below. Thanks.

Very Long Movies I Can Watch Over and Over Again…

Believe me, I LOVE a good historical epic. Love ’em a lot. But most of them are films you can enthusiastically watch once, and never return to again. This is the case with a lot of ’em, and a lot of other assorted ‘long’ movies, but there are a special selection of movies that are AT LEAST 3 hours long that I can watch over and over and over, and possibly never get tired of them. And here they are, in order of how many times I’ve seen them.

The Best of Youth (2003)

This high-spirited, epic Italian drama is a literal lifetime spread out through six hours of pure bliss. Please do not be turned off by the runtime; this is a brilliant, insanely watchable and gripping family drama; to quote Roger Ebert: “The film is six hours long but it is also six hours deep.” An unforgettable film I will never regret watching. View Count: 1, but I plan to buy it soon and then watch it over and over.

Dekalog (1988)

I know it’s going too far to call this “the best movie of all time.” That’s an impossible statement to make, so I’m not going to venture to make it, but Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-hour Dekalog (conveniently sliced into ten equal pieces) is pretty damn close. It deals with pretty much all the themes, emotions and basic crises of the human condition, and it does so beautifully. A masterful, must-see epic, if ever there was one. Read my review. View Count: 1 (Be fair! I only saw it for the first time a month ago!)

Shoah (1985)

Though there is dispute whether this is a documentary or a film, Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah is the most powerful, full, emotionally visceral film about the Holocaust ever made. At a whopping nine hours, some will undoubtedly be bored, but Lanzmann’s movie is, for me, anything but boring. He provides interviews with those both directly and indirectly involved in the mass murder of the Jews, and provides haunting looks at some of the places these atrocities occured. Chilling; epic; a masterpiece. View Count: 2.

Fanny and Alexander (1983)

Ingmar Bergman’s magnificent 3-hour (or 5-hour, depending on which version you’re watching) masterwork is a brilliant, beautiful, astounding work of art. Sven Nykvist’s cinematography makes every image look like a fantastic, colourful painting, beautifully directed by an amazing Bergman at the height (and end) of his theatrical career. Jeez, I’m running out of adjectives. View Count: 2

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Of all the brilliant epics David Lean directed, the only one that really hooked me and made me fall in love with it was Lawrence of Arabia. Crossing the 3 and a half hour mark, it may be long, but it sure is beautiful. The stunning images of the Sahara Desert combined with the sheer will of Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence combine to make a fantastic, riveting movie. View Count: 2.

Dogville (2003)

Lars von Trier has made many films that have very divided opinion, and the one with the most divided is probably Dogville. It seems half the audience hate this fantastic 3-hour drama about social mistreatment, cruelty, and the ultimate price of letting everything go. If you’ve seen it, then make sure you visit this page and leave a comment rating it out of 10 by June 24, 2011. Anyway, it’s a fantastic (but debatable) movie that I absolutely love. View Count: 3.

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Stanley Kubrick’s longest film is actually 3 hours long, and often forgotten about when Kubrick’s name and filmography is mentioned. However, it is one of his best films, a fantastic epic about the lifetime of a young man (Ryan O’Neal) who ascends to royalty in the 19th century by fighting and cheating his way to the top. Beautifully lit, this scenically marvellous and emotionally riveting (particularly within the gripping last hour) film is sadly underrated. View Count: 4.

The Godfather, Parts I and II (1972, 1974)

Both of these films, which together total over six hours, are absolutely enthralling, brilliant masterpieces from Francis Ford Coppola that revolutionized and revitalized a mafia/crime drama genre, undoubtedly inspiring such classic directors as Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma. Not to mention I can watch them over and over and over without ever getting tired. View Count: 6.

Inland Empire (2006)

I seem to be the only person who loves this movie enough to say it is perfect. David Lynch’s 3-hour masterpiece is a very inaccessible but still hugely enthralling delve into the unusual, darker side of humanity. A seemingly senseless, plotless series of scenes, Inland Empire actually has a bustling, multi-layered plot which is extremely difficult to decode, probably the reason I’ve watched it so many times. It’s really a film that needs to be seen to be believed, and I don’t like to throw that phrase around. View Count: 8.

Magnolia (1999)

If you read my blog you probably know this is my favourite movie of all time, and that is fair enough reason to watch it 19 times. That’s right, NINETEEN! I’ve watched this 187 minute labyrinth of emotions almost twenty times in its entirety, and I never, never, NEVER get tired of it. I’ve written a very long essay on it (which I plan to post to the site soon enough, pending further editing), and forced friends to watch it more times than they care for. Even if you don’t love this movie, as I’m certainly not expecting you to, you have to admit it has serious emotional power, and it is a testament to the brutal, strong ability of Paul Thomas Anderson, a man who was BORN to be behind the camera. Affects me in the same manner each and every time, and was arguably the film that fuelled my love for cinema. View Count: 19.

What are some awfully long movies you love to watch? What about ones you think are too long? Not long enough? Seen any of the movies above and have something you’d like to say? Leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.