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Macmillan Higher Education Palgrave Higher Education


ISBN 9781844573257
Publication Date April 2011
Formats Paperback Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher British Film Institute
Series BFI Film Classics

Claude Lanzmann's epic 1985 film Shoah is the distillation of more than 350 hours of footage gathered over eleven years. The film tells the story of the Holocaust through interviews with survivors of the extermination camps, bystanders who watched or participated in mass murder, and some of the perpetrators of genocide. As a filmic document of the Holocaust, it shuns those staple elements of archival footage or a consistent voiceover that characterise other classic works. Instead, it is composed entirely of eyewitness interviews in a wide range of settings, contrasted with footage of landscape in the present, and with the chilling imagery of travelling trains. In this way, Shoah's effect is to represent the past, but only as it exists in the present, and it is, in Lanzmann's phrase, a 'fiction of the real', and not a simple documentary.

In this insightful study, Sue Vice explores Shoah both as cinema and as an example of Holocaust representation. In addition, the author follows Lanzmann's declaration that 'Shoah is a fight against generalities' in emphasising the importance of the detail in both dialogue and filmic technique. Vice uses close readings of some of the film's interviews – including that with Abraham Bomba, a barber at the death camp Treblinka, and one secretly filmed with Franz Suchomel, a guard at the same camp – to explore the background to the film, the difficulties in its financing and production, and the long process of editing that led to Lanzmann's realisation that 'the subject of my film is death itself, death and not survival'.

SUE VICE is Professor of English Literature at the University of Sheffield, UK. She is the author of Introducing Bakhtin (1997), Holocaust Fiction (2000), Children Writing the Holocaust (2004) and Jack Rosenthal (2009), and the editor of Representing the Holocaust: Essays in Honour of Bryan Burns (2003).

1 Lanzmann as film-maker 
2 Documentary or 'fiction of the real'? 
3 Archive footage 
4 'Reincarnating' the past
5 Mise en scene 
6 Lanzmann as interviewer 
7 Poland: the ethics of filming 
8 Testimony
Appendix: Overview of Shoah



'…an insightful, balanced and accessible way into this intimidating work.' - Total Film
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