Thickness of time

Warsaw. Claude Lanzmann promotes his just published autobiography “Le Lièvre de Patagonie” (The Patagonian Hare). Somebody asks about his former leftist political views. He explains the war and post war realities and then adds that when talking about the past “one cannot forget about the thickness of time”, that back then not everything was obvious. (This reminds me of Kierkegaard’s “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”)

Flipping trough the book I find a scene during a high school lesson on Rabelais. Young Lanzmann unwisely brings up Bergson. His favorite teacher cuts him with “Boy, Rabelais did not read Bergson”. (This has cured Lanzmann from comparativeness.)

Both insights fit with his documentary style in “Shoah”, the film that seems the end result of an almost alchemical process of entering “thickness of time” while avoiding any external, that is comparative, yearnings. Sticking to the subject matter no matter what. No matter the pain. Early on in “Shoah” after one of the survivors tells a particularly shocking horror story, the director asks off screen - why do you talk about it. Because you Mr. Lanzmann insist, comes the replay.

It took Lanzmann 12 years to make the film. He says that that during those years “the time has stopped”, for him and afterward he had to “reconstruct the time”. Yet even now his relation to time is skewed because of that experience. (Something was off with the translation so I suspect that in French Lanzmann articulated it clearer) Still, that his directorial alchemy involves time becomes apparent from the very first reel of “Shoah”.

Lanzmann in person is remarkably sharp, honest and upfront in his controversial opinions. He is also warm and with a healthy distance to himself. The Q&A is conducted by surprisingly aggressive interviewer who does not always sound smart. A few times Lanzmann boils (“with all due respect Anna, that’s a dumb thing to say”). Yet afterward he reaches out and squeezes her hand in a gesture of (?) reconciliation or forgiveness. I am almost shocked by this small, fast and spontaneous looking action. Yet, after a few seconds it all becomes clear. Of course he won’t hold any grudges. He knows that it’s OK. He has pierced through the thickness of time.

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