Le lièvre de Patagonie, de Claude Lanzmann
NOTA DE LEITURA
Claude Lanzmann, francês de nascimento, judeu de raça, nasceu em 27 de Novembro de 1925. É conhecido por ter realizado vários documentários todos de longa duração, com especial relevo para “Shoah” sobre genocídio dos judeus pelos nazis, que tem 9 h e 36 m. e demorou 12 anos a realizar, de 1973 a 1985.
Publicou este livro de memórias no final de 2009, aos 84 anos, portanto. É bastante volumoso (757 pags. na edição de bolso), mas lê-se como um romance. No livro, não tem qualquer respeito pela cronologia, anda dezenas de anos para trás e para a frente. Por vezes, o leitor tem dificuldade em identificar em que altura da sua vida se passaram os factos descritos.
É um tipo jovial, que ama a vida e as mulheres e também se revela bastante vaidoso e senhor de si.
Depois de ter participado na luta da Resistência, começou a frequentar em Paris o meio intelectual, fazendo amizade com Sartre e Simone de Beauvoir. Com esta viveu de 1952 a 1959, foi mesmo o único amante dela com quem ela morou na mesma casa; quando se juntaram, ele tinha 27 anos, ela 44. Chama-a também "le Castor" como era costume entre os intelectuais, incluindo Sartre. O nome vem do facto de castor em inglês se dizer beaver (semelhante a Beauvoir) e às qualidades do animal: os castores andam em grupos e têm espírito construtivo, simbolizam o trabalho e a energia.
Em 1963, casou com a actriz Judith Magre, durou 10 anos. Em 1971, casou com Angelika Schrobsdorff, uma judia que conheceu em Israel. A relação durou também 10 anos. Omite que aos 70 anos se casou com a médica gerontóloga Dominique Lanzmann-Petithory, de quem teve um filho, Felix Lanzmann; dedica o livro a ambos, mas sem os identificar.
Outras mulheres aparecem ao longo do livro em descrições muito vivas, possivelmente com algo de romanesco à mistura.
As tendências de sedutor ainda este ano lhe trouxeram um dissabor no Aeroporto de Tel Aviv, quando quis dar um abraço a uma funcionária da Alfândega, que o quis acusar de assédio sexual, como foi relatado pela imprensa, em especial pelo Haaretz.
Tirando a sequência bastante desordenada, está bem escrito e lê-se com muito prazer. Muitas páginas são dedicadas à longa realização de “Shoah”, e à recepção do documentário, nem sempre favorável, mesmo nos meios judaicos. Os dirigentes estão interessados é no presente, não vêem vantagem em chorar o passado.
No livro, a pgs. 733 da edição de bolso, ele encontra o Cardeal Arcebispo de Paris, Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger (1926-2007), judeu de nascimento e discutem sobre o anti-semitismo. O Cardeal afirma a diferença entre o anti-semitismo cristão, ao qual nega a perversidade e a capacidade de fazer mal e o anti-judaismo nazi, segundo ele, um produto da filosofia das Luzes. O assunto não é aprofundado no livro. Porém, na minha opinião, o anti-judaismo da Inquisição é exactamente igual ao anti-judaismo nazi; apenas este último não procura justificações, enquanto o da Inquisição se esconde hipocritamente atrás da defesa da fé. Mas os Inquisidores sabiam perfeitamente que estavam a condenar e a matar inocentes. Recomendo a leitura do visto da Mesa da Inquisição em 31 de Agosto de 1705 no processo n.º 1830-1, de Isabel Henriques, de 14 pgs. em letra miudinha (fls. 120 a 126 v. - imagens 243 a 256) onde o Inquisidor Paulo Afonso de Albuquerque, tanto tenta justificar o injustificável que fica a nu toda a maldade que está dentro dele.
French film director, Claude Lanzmann, was detained and investigated by Ben Gurion Airport officials on Tuesday for allegedly sexually harassing a female security worker.
Lanzmann, who is Jewish and was in Israel for a visit, arrived at the airport accompanied by two others in order to return to Paris. According to the security worker’s complain, Lanzmann passed the security check without any difficulties. Upon completing the check, he allegedly came up to her from behind, and hugged and kissed her against her will.
Upon filing the complaint, Lanzmann was taken in for investigation, after which he was released and allowed to board the plane and make his way to France.
Lanzmann is most well-known for his 1985 documentary film Shoah, which chronicles the Nazi genocide during World War II
By Claude Lanzmann
I am 86 years old, I don’t count the number of trips I made to Israel since 1952, the year of my discovery of your country, and I know perfectly well and through and through the rules of security at Ben Gurion Airport.
Generally, I approve them and consent with all my heart and my best mood. But there are also – and I am sure that you are aware of it - some exaggerations and even sadistic behavior of some young security girls who stick like robots to the litany of their inquisitorial questions, without taking in account the tiredness or the age of the people searched endlessly. It is exactly what happened at Ben Gurion Airport. The (security) girl in charge of my group- my producer and my female assistant wearing a heavy and big backpack- obliged her to open 3 times this heavy bag. She also forbade her to help me in the opening of my heavy baggage, full with books and DVD necessary for my work. In order to stop this inhuman treatment, I wanted to show her the DVD of Shoah and my last book, The Patagonian Hare. But she dismissed all this. She was all in all extremely unpleasant and the security regulations have nothing to do with this kind of behavior.
After this long and tiring episode, we finally reached the desk of the luggage check in, and of the boarding card. The (security) girl did not leave us, but stood behind us, watching. Happy to have overcome this hardship, I smiled to her, hoping hopelessly her own smile in return, and gave her what we call in French one accolade around her shoulders – in English, a hug – saying ironically to my friends : “look how charming she is”. That’s all, nothing more, nothing less, there was not the slightest sexual connotation. And 200 meters later, walking with my producer towards the passport control, I heard behind me an horrible scream and a virago to whom she had complained rushed at me, grabbed my passport, which I had in hand, refused to listen at me, to talk, called security men, who forbade me to say a word. Finally the police came, refused to talk to me, to listen at me, pushed me in a car (which took me to) a police station, five kilometers away (I could not take my scarf, my gloves, my coat with Rimbaud in the pocket). I was interrogated by a nice policeman. Afterwards I had to pass the torture of the digital prints: each finger of each hand, all in all ten fingers, and twice the palms of my two hands completely dark with ink, without the possibility of washing them. They rushed me to the El Al plane which had waited for me for an hour and a half, probably on the instructions of the big chief of the airport security, who understood that this so-called “harassment” was a non-event.
I was and I am still rather sad: I devoted to Israel many years of my life and I made six films which will remain forever in the history of cinema, of Israel, and of the Shoah. I also wrote books which became bestsellers. The last one, "The Patagonian Hare," was translated to Hebrew and published in Israel last year.
5 Mars 2009
Les cent vies de Claude Lanzmann
par Philippe Sollers
Le Lièvre de Patagonie, par Claude Lanzmann, Gallimard, 560 p., 25 euros (en librairie le 12 mars).
Que penser d’un intellectuel célèbre qui commence l’énorme roman de ses Mémoires par les mots suivants : « La guillotine — plus généralement la peine capitale et les différents modes d’administration de la mort — aura été la grande affaire de ma vie » ? Qu’il est, d’emblée, dans le sujet même. Qu’il a compris que la mort est un scandale, et la vraie vie aussi. Que les bourreaux, à travers le temps, se ressemblent tous, de même que les victimes. Il a 5 ou 6 ans, Lanzmann, quand la guillotine lui apparaît dans un film. Il n’en dort plus. Il ne dormira pas, non plus, au moment de la guerre d’Algérie, quand une exécution aura lieu à l’aube. La Terreur, c’est ça : « Une même lignée de bureaucrates bouchers servant sans faillir les maîtres de l’heure, ne laissant aucune chance aux inculpés, refusant de les entendre, les insultant, ordonnant les débats vers une sentence rendue avant même leur ouverture. » L’abolition de la peine de mort et de la guillotine, en France, est récente, mais partout l’horreur continue : aux Etats-Unis, en Chine, en Irak, en Afghanistan et ailleurs. Lanzmann, parce qu’il est un grand vivant, est hanté par toutes ces scènes, ces derniers regards, ces derniers instants. « J’aime la vie à la folie, dit-il, cent vies ne me lasseraient pas. » Il s’oblige à regarder des vidéos d’égorgements islamiques : Dieu se récite au couteau et détache des têtes. Lanzmann est révulsé mais voudra voir plus loin, là où on ne voit plus rien, et, un jour, après douze ans de tribulations extravagantes, ce sera Shoah, ce chef-d’oeuvre au-delà des images.
Qui a su, qui a senti, qui a compris ? Goya, sans doute, et Lanzmann a des pages
de grande inspiration sur le « Tres de Mayo » et un dessin prophétique « Duel
à coups de bâton ». Mais enfin, lui-même a bel et bien eu cent vies, et il
les a toujours puisqu’il sait les dire.
Un livre où il y a une bonne dizaine de livres, tous éclatants de précision, de détails parlants, de portraits inoubliables. C’est Lanzmann, avec ironie et distance, parlant de sa mère explosive et embarrassante, de son père silencieux dans la Résistance. C’est Lanzmann à 18 ans, au lycée Blaise-Pascal, à Clermont-Ferrand, transportant des armes avec l’aide du Parti communiste. Il y a là une charmante Hélène de son âge, et ils s’embrassent à n’en plus finir dans les rues pour échapper à la Gestapo (les armes sont dans la valise). C’est Lanzmann toujours plus ou moins réfractaire et clandestin dans le maquis. La narration saute d’une époque à l’autre, revient, repart, art extrême du montage, avec mémoire visuelle instantanée. C’est Lanzmann à Berlin et en Israël, faisant du planeur et apprenant à piloter. C’est Lanzmann philosophe avec ses amis d’alors, notamment Deleuze qui sera le peu glorieux amant de sa soeur, Evelyne, avant que celle-ci soit séduite par Sartre, et finisse de façon tragique. Tragédies, suicides, mais aussi comédies. C’est Lanzmann étudiant déguisé en curé pour de fausses quêtes, petit voleur de livres au quartier Latin. C’est Lanzmann au bordel et, plus tard, journaliste à « France-Soir ». Des drames, sans doute, mais aussi beaucoup de générosité et de liberté. C’est Lanzmann dans l’aventure des « Temps modernes », et ce portrait de Sartre : « Formidable machine à penser, bielles et pistons fabuleusement huilés, montant en puissance jusqu’à plein régime. » « Les ennemis de Sartre se sont gaussés de sa laideur, de son strabisme, l’ont caricaturé en crapaud, en gnome, en créature immonde et maléfique... Je lui trouvais, moi, de la beauté, un charme puissant, j’aimais l’énergie extrême de sa démarche, son courage physique et par-dessus tout cette voix d’acier trempé, incarnation d’une intelligence sans réplique. » Et puis, bien entendu, Beauvoir, la cohabitation avec elle, l’amour, puis l’amitié et, toujours, l’admiration. Sartre et Beauvoir : « Ils m’ont aidé à penser, je leur donnais à penser. » Les voyages épuisants avec Beauvoir, les mauvaises humeurs de Sartre, leurs angoisses, néantisantes chez lui, hurlantes et pleurantes chez elle : la vie. Une vie d’aventurier un peu fou, si l’on y pense, comme le prouve sa rocambolesque et drolatique aventure en Corée du Nord avec une infirmière sans cesse surveillée par la police totalitaire. Il est dedans il est dehors. Quand on lui demande, à New York, après la projection de « Pourquoi Israël », si sa patrie est Israël ou la France, il a cette réponse qui le résume : « Ma patrie, c’est mon film. »
Et c’est le voyage vers le soleil noir de « Shoah », le film le plus antispectaculaire qu’on n’ait jamais conçu et réalisé. Dès le début, Lanzmann sait qu’il n’utilisera pas les images d’archives ni les récits des survivants. Il ne fait pas un film sur la survie mais sur la mort elle-même, celle dont personne ne revient, celle des chambres à gaz. Il va donc retrouver les rares rescapés des Sonderkommandos (commandos spéciaux) qui officiaient dans l’enfer lui-même. On connaît leurs noms : l’extraordinaire Filip Müller, ou encore, séquence centrale, Abraham Bomba, le coiffeur de Treblinka. Et voici les cercles infernaux : Birkenau, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Maïdanek Non pas un film sur l’horrible routine concentrationnaire, mais sur la mécanique de l’extermination. Pour cela, il faut retrouver aussi les tueurs nazis, les identifier, les pister, et surtout les faire parler avec caméra dissimulée et ruses diverses. Douze ans de cavales et de recherches, donc, avec des moments de désespoir lorsque l’argent manque et qu’il comprend que personne ne réalise vraiment ce à quoi il veut aboutir. Il est aux Etats-Unis pour trouver un financement, et la question qu’on lui pose est : « What is your message ? » Pas le moindre message d’espoir, de consolation, de rédemption ? Non. Du coup, précise Lanzmann, « il n’y a pas un dollar américain dans le budget de « Shoah » ». Voilà la grande démonstration : les humains, pour fuir la mort, ont besoin d’images, ils veulent vivre dans des images et dans des faux films, ils font tout pour ne pas savoir l’extrême (3 000 personnes étouffées ensemble, hommes, femmes, enfants). « Shoah » (comme « Sobibor », autre chef-d’oeuvre) montre bel et bien l’impensable et l’irrespirable. On commémore pour éviter la mort, on vit sa petite vie de devoir de mémoire, on institue l’oubli, on ne veut pas que le mal existe en soi et pour soi. Révélatrices sont les réactions de fuite ou d’effroi religieux que Lanzmann rencontre (le rabbin Sirat, le cardinal Lustiger...). Non, le mal n’est pas « banal », il est absolu, et c’est pourquoi l’oeuvre et la grande vie de Lanzmann sont des événements métaphysiques. Il a imposé au tourbillon du spectacle sa technique obstinée de questionneur. « A Birkenau, rappelle-t-il, les lièvres se glissaient sous les barbelés pendant qu’avait lieu l’épouvantable massacre. » Longtemps après, en Patagonie, Lanzmann voit soudain un lièvre dans les phares de sa voiture. Il a 70 ans, mais il écrit que, comme à 20 ans, tout son être s’est mis à bondir d’une « joie sauvage ». Son livre, d’un bout à l’autre, dit cette joie.
21 mars 2009
Claude Lanzmann sur tous les fronts
Dans un livre multiple, le cinéaste et écrivain revient avec une acuité remarquable sur ses voyages, ses rencontres et ses combats.
Quand on prononce le mot monument, on voit immédiatement quelque chose d'imposant, de grandiose et de figé. Mais Claude Lanzmann, homme de paradoxes, a fait de ce livre de Mémoires - mot qu'il récuse, avec raison - un monument en mouvement. Il est fou de la vie, comme cet animal qu'il aime, le lièvre - d'où le titre, Le Lièvre de Patagonie. Le lièvre qui parvenait à s'enfuir des camps de concentration en passant sous les barbelés ; celui qui, en Patagonie, a traversé la route comme un bolide, au mépris de la voiture de Lanzmann arrivant à grande vitesse ; celui qui ne sera jamais rattrapé par la tortue. "Je ne suis ni blasé ni fatigué du monde, écrit Lanzmann, cent vies, je le sais, ne me lasseraient pas." Cent vies, il les a eues (lire son portrait par Serge July dans Le Monde 2 du 7 mars), et, à 83 ans, il s'en souvient avec une acuité magistrale.
Tous ceux qui s'intéressent à l'histoire intellectuelle de la seconde moitié du XXe siècle, à Sartre et Beauvoir particulièrement, savaient qu'ils seraient enthousiasmés par le récit de Claude Lanzmann. Par son contenu, même si le livre n'était pas, en soi, un grand livre. Mais, bonheur supplémentaire, Le Lièvre de Patagonie est un très grand livre. Par sa construction, qui bouscule avec subtilité la chronologie, par la précision de la narration, par le style, qui exige de lire ligne à ligne ce long texte rassemblant plusieurs livres : celui d'un aventurier de la vie, celui d'un combattant, d'un guerrier, d'un partisan, celui d'un amoureux, celui d'un cinéaste singulier. Et celui, qui les unit tous, d'un écrivain.
"FONCER AU LARGE"
Les récits de voyage sont de petites merveilles. La découverte d'Israël en 1952, un séjour en Corée et une idylle improbable avec une infirmière dans un pays totalement verrouillé, les mois passés à Berlin, la Chine, l'Algérie et la haute figure de Frantz Fanon, tant d'autres pays encore, pour ce voyageur infatigable.
A 18 ans, à Clermont-Ferrand, Claude Lanzmann entre dans la Résistance, transporte des armes avec la jeune et séduisante Hélène, fait l'expérience de la violence, de la lâcheté - d'un camarade - et de son tempérament de guerrier. Il n'a pas peur de mettre son corps en danger - ce qui ne signifie pas qu'il n'a jamais peur. Il fait du planeur, apprend à piloter, aime la montagne, et nager : "Foncer au large, perpendiculairement à la côte, ne pas la longer, a toujours été ma façon de faire." Un jour, en Israël, il a failli ne pas revenir et se noyer, à l'endroit même où, le dimanche précédent, l'ambassadeur d'Angleterre en Israël avait péri. Mais, une fois de plus, la mort n'a pas voulu de lui.
Parallèlement à ce roman d'aventures se déploie, dans Le Lièvre de Patagonie, une histoire plus intime. Et Lanzmann a le talent des portraits. Ceux des témoins de son enfance, sa mère, son père - vite séparés -, son beau-père et sa belle-mère. La mère qui "avait fait honte à l'enfant conformiste que j'étais. Son bégaiement terrible, intraitable, inexpugnable, (...) ses colères qui faisaient rouler dans leurs orbites ses beaux grands yeux". D'autres femmes aussi : sa soeur très aimée, Evelyne, belle actrice, malheureuse en amour, qui s'est suicidée ; celles qu'il a épousées, dont Judith Magre ; celles qu'il a séduites, et rapidement aimées, lui qui affirme : "Je hais profondément, de tout mon être, les figures obligées de la roucoulade, temps perdu, paroles convenues (...) et aujourd'hui je vais droit, comme dirait Husserl, à "la chose même"."
"ENCORE PLUS FOLLE QUE MOI"
Dans Le Lièvre de Patagonie, ce qu'on pourrait appeler "le roman de Beauvoir" aura évidemment une place à part pour tous ceux qui aiment Simone de Beauvoir. Non que Sartre, cette "formidable machine à penser, bielles et pistons fabuleusement huilés", soit absent. Au contraire, on voit comment, avant même leur rencontre, son oeuvre a été fondatrice dans la formation intellectuelle du jeune Lanzmann.
Quand Simone de Beauvoir, dite le Castor par ses proches, s'est liée avec Lanzmann, il avait 27 ans et elle 44. Il est le seul homme avec lequel elle ait cohabité. "La présence de Lanzmann auprès de moi me délivra de mon âge (...) car ma curiosité s'était beaucoup assagie", écrit-elle dans La Force des choses. Et lui : "Simone de Beauvoir était raisonnable, le Castor était encore plus folle que moi. C'est le Castor qui l'emporta." Expéditions en montagne trop dangereuses parce qu'ils sont mal équipés et frôlent l'accident fatal, passion de la corrida, curiosité insatiable. Quand on a lu Beauvoir, on la reconnaît à chaque page, illuminée par la tendresse avec laquelle Lanzmann évoque ses manies et ses angoisses. Sa frénésie de tout voir dans une ville, et de tout savoir, de tout raconter et reraconter, avec Lanzmann ce que lui a dit Sartre, avec Sartre ce que lui a dit Lanzmann... Jamais Simone de Beauvoir n'a été, de nouveau, aussi vivante.
L'un des autres livres de ce texte pluriel est évidemment l'aventure extraordinaire de la réalisation de Shoah. Et ce moment essentiel où Lanzmann comprend que le sujet du film sera "la mort même, la mort et non pas la survie". La mort, qui est comme la scène inaugurale de ce récit puisque le premier chapitre commence ainsi : "La guillotine - plus généralement la peine capitale et les différents modes d'administration de la mort - aura été la grande affaire de ma vie." Pour parler de la mort comme le fait Lanzmann, pour réaliser Shoah, pour écrire Le Lièvre de Patagonie, il faut aimer la vie. La vraie vie. Passionnément.
Publié le 01/04/2009
Par Riglet Marc et (Lire),
Dans Shoah, il n'y a pas d'images de l'extermination des Juifs d'Europe. Toutes choses égales par ailleurs, dans les Mémoires de Claude Lanzmann, le temps, celui qui passe, semble comme absent. Lui qui, dans ce livre insolite et fascinant, raconte le dernier demi-siècle, réussit ce tour de force de faire de ce passé un présent continu. Il faut aller, sans hâte aucune, au terme de l'ouvrage pour que l'auteur s'explique sur ce parti pris du «naguère» plutôt que du «jadis». «Je n'ai jamais songé, au fil des années accumulées, à me dissocier de l'époque présente, à dire, par exemple: "De mon temps..." Mon temps est absolument celui dans lequel je vis et même si le monde me plaît de moins en moins - il y a de quoi -, c'est le mien, absolument. Ni retraite, ni retrait, je ne sais pas ce que c'est que de vieillir et c'est d'abord ma jeunesse qui est garante de celle du monde.» Littérairement, l'effet produit par ce choix d'un éternel présent, avec ce qu'il assure de vérité et de sincérité, est spectaculaire.
Claude Lanzmann nous embarque donc, fascinés, dans ses engagements et aussi dans ses confessions les plus intimes. L'histoire familiale, d'abord. Elle est hors du commun. Les trois enfants Lanzmann, Jacques, Claude et Evelyne ont une mère qui, un jour, disparaît. Juifs réfugiés en zone dite libre, ils vivent précairement avec leur père. Père et fils, chacun de leur côté, entreront dans la Résistance et ne s'en feront la confidence que tardivement. Puis la mère reparaît. C'est une femme à la personnalité éclatante, animée d'une telle vitalité et d'un tel amour pour ses enfants qu'elle les reconquerra comme elle fascinera leurs amis d'adolescence. Parmi eux - la guerre est finie et Claude Lanzmann a rejoint la khâgne de Louis-le-Grand - il y a Gilles Deleuze, son condisciple. Il sera le premier amant d'Evelyne, la jeune soeur de Claude, dont l'histoire tourmentée constitue un temps particulièrement douloureux de ces Mémoires. Evelyne Rey, c'est son nom de théâtre, aura eu une vie amoureuse chaotique. Ses intellectuels d'amants semblent ne faire que passer et la laissent à chaque fois pantelante. Il y eut Sartre. Evelyne Rey jouait Estelle dans Huis clos et, pour Simone de Beauvoir et Claude Lanzmann, qui vivaient à l'époque maritalement, la rencontre était devenue aussi «inévitable». «Tout y concourait, le goût de Sartre pour la séduction, l'inclination de ma soeur à la philosophie - il fallait un penseur de la stature de Sartre pour panser les plaies ouvertes par Deleuze - mais aussi la symétrie en miroir entre la relation du frère avec Beauvoir et celle que la soeur entretiendrait avec Sartre.» La rencontre eut lieu et la passion se déploya. Seulement, être la maîtresse de Sartre promettait des tourments. Car Sartre ne rompait jamais. De sorte qu'à côté de l'égérie éternelle, Simone de Beauvoir, à côté de la maîtresse officielle, Michelle Vian, toutes les autres femmes étaient vouées à incarner l'héroïne de Back Street. Dans ce rôle, Evelyne Rey se brûla. En novembre 1966, elle se suicide, laissant son frère Claude inconsolable.
C'est avec la même sensibilité à vif que Claude Lanzmann parle de ses amours avec Simone de Beauvoir. Ils se sont tant aimés. Ils ont formé, avec Sartre, un trio intellectuel et affectif exceptionnel. On sort convaincu qu'il n'y avait dans cet attelage rien de scabreux. Dès lors, du moins, que l'on a bien compris que la morale dite «commune» était une catégorie qui, pour eux, n'avait tout simplement aucun sens. Plus généralement, les amours de Claude Lanzmann scandent sa vie. Celui qui le saisit pour une infirmière coréenne dans la Corée de Kim Il-sung constitue la matière d'un récit époustouflant. Saura-t-on jamais ce qu'il y a de réel dans cette aventure mais les dons de Claude Lanzmann pour dire cette passion aussi torride qu'inaccomplie atteignent les sommets. Mais où est le siècle dans tout ça, se demandera-t-on? C'est la magie même de ces Mémoires. Le récit est personnel, intime, impudique, mais la trame est celle des engagements. Avec Claude Lanzmann, nous comprenons ce que c'est qu'être juif, jeune résistant communiste, ce que c'est qu'être un intellectuel après guerre et aussi un militant anticolonialiste dans les années 1960. Et puis surtout, il y a Shoah. Ce qu'il a fallu d'opiniâtreté, d'intelligence, de folie aussi, pour démontrer tout, en ne montrant rien, de l'événement terrible, on le mesure à la lecture du chapitre lumineux par quoi ce livre étrange et beau se conclut.
Le Monde - blog
Claude LANZMANN – Le lièvre de Patagonie
Par IEGOR GRAN
Je n’aimerais pas être à ma place. Voyez, on vient me demander, gentiment et poliment, mais avec un je-ne-sais-quoi d’insistance voyeuriste, de faire la critique de Claude Lanzmann pour ses mémoires. Le titre du livre - le Lièvre de Patagonie - me fait aussitôt penser à un cobaye de laboratoire sur lequel devront s’escrimer mes neurones de dégénéré, avec tous les risques liés à l’opération, moi qui n’écris jamais sur les livres des autres, par peur de blesser ou d’induire une pathologie chez le patient. Par dégoût aussi. L’angoisse métaphysique d’attraper à mon tour une maladie littéraire, comme ce curé de Hawaii qui avait attrapé la lèpre.
Pour les jeunes lecteurs de Libé qui ne le connaissent pas ou le confondent avec Jacques Lanzmann, son frère, le parolier de Dutronc, je fais un rapide tour d’horizon. Mon cochon d’Inde est directeur desTemps modernes. Boyfriend de Simone de Beauvoir pendant six ans,tyrannosaurus intellectualis dans toute sa splendeur, il est surtout célèbre pour avoir été le papa de Shoah, œuvre culte sur l’abomination du même nom. Des âmes charitables du milieu m’apprennent que l’animal serait susceptible comme un magnum de nitroglycérine, rancunier et tenace comme un bout d’ADN, le moindre pet dans sa direction provoquerait un effet papillon qui me reviendrait dans la figure, décuplé. Dans les rédactions, Lanzmann est la patate chaude du moment - merci du cadeau ! «Pile poil pour vous, me disent mes commanditaires. C’est bien connu, vous êtes une tête brûlée.» Et ils s’installent aux meilleures places. Je chie dans mon froc mais j’y vais, sentant monter en moi la fierté de la jeune fille aztèque que l’on sacrifie pour l’équilibre du cosmos.
Ecluse. Je prends délicatement la bête et je pose ses 545 pages sur le bureau. Par où commencer ? La peau se découpe facilement, le texte est docile, souple, on progresse rapidement. Passé le gras des remerciements, on trouve le souffle de l’aventure, les tons pimpants de la jeunesse, à Brioude, en Auvergne. L’antisémitisme français. La guerre. La traque des Juifs, avec les Lanzmann en première ligne - un nom pareil, c’est comme un gyrophare. S’il n’y avait que le nom ! L’énorme nez de sa mère ne promettait rien de bon. Autant se promener avec un paratonnerre pendant un orage. Pour parer au pire, le père Lanzmann impose à ses enfants des alertes en pleine nuit, chronométrant le temps qu’ils mettent à se cacher, les entraînant à rester silencieux. Mais ils ne font pas que se terrer, les Lanzmann, ils contre-attaquent, ils entrent en Résistance - je vous ai bien dit que cet homme est dangereux. Embuscades de convois allemands. Cache-cache avec la Milice. Du courage, une bonne dose d’inconscience et de la chance, beaucoup de chance, l’indispensable condiment. Youkaïdi, youkaïda, dirait Desproges. Ces pages me font du bien, moi qui n’ai jamais cru à la Résistance, tout comme je ne crois pas aux soucoupes volantes ou à Mai 68, mais c’est une autre histoire.
A la Libération, Claude a 20 ans. Les parties génitales sont saines et vigoureuses. Elles ont beaucoup donné depuis les premières pollutions, quand il épiait avec Jacques une locataire callipyge par le trou de la serrure. Elles donneront encore, à profusion, toute la vie durant, et l’on comprend que la mécanique n’est pas grippée, à 83 ans. Heureux bonhomme ! Il faut dire que l’après-guerre de Claude commence par des virées aux maisons closes en compagnie de Jean Cau. Puis on vole des livres de philo hard à la librairie PUF. C’est très classe, très frais, on se croirait chez Truffaut, et cela donne de l’énergie à revendre. Si j’avais une machine à voyager dans le temps… je n’irais pas aux PUF, paix à leur âme.
A force de tourner en rond à Saint-Germain, de regarder les femmes mûres, de bander dur en récitant les philosophes allemands, ce qui devait arriver arrive. Il tombe sur Jean-Paul et Simone qui le prennent sous leur coupe et dans leur lit. L’époque entière se couchait, docile, aux pieds du fétiche. Comment aurait-il pu résister, lui, à la force centripète du 42 rue Bonaparte ? «Sartre, c’était vraiment l’intelligence en acte et au travail, la générosité enracinée dans l’intelligence», écrit Lanzmann. Bigre ! Quand on sait que le grand homme a cumulé les fiascos intellectuels comme un chaman collectionne les gris-gris ! Entre le Comité d’épuration, sa complaisance pour Staline, la bi-bise à Fidel et le tam-tam qu’il a été pour la Révolution culturelle, il en aura fait des passes, l’écrivain engagé ! Son lumineux «Tout anticommuniste est un chien» vaut bien une écluse de Belomorkanal. Ah ! S’il avait vécu un peu plus, ma main à couper que son antisionisme aurait tourné antisémite. De ce bon vieux antisémitisme de gauche, tiers-mondiste et mâtiné de Marx, à qui l’on doit, il ne faut pas l’oublier, ceci : «L’Argent est le dieu jaloux d’Israël devant qui nul autre dieu ne doit subsister.» On dirait du Dieudonné. Sacré Karl ! Sacré Jean-Paul !… Lanzmann aurait mérité mieux.
Manche. Je tâte les cuisses. Elles sont dures, mon lapin a beaucoup voyagé. Israël, bien sûr, mais aussi l’Egypte de Nasser, avec Sartre, le pot de colle, dans les bagages, la Chine, la Corée du Nord, en 1958, où il tente de séduire une infirmière, opportunément transformée en guide touristique par les camarades du parti qui observent tout, y compris l’érection dans le pantalon de ce français bien naïf. La place Rouge était vide, Elle avait un joli nom mon guide… Il est étonnant à quel point les Occidentaux, même les plus fins, les plus échaudés par le totalitarisme nazi, ne comprenaient pas grand-chose aux rouages des dictatures prolétariennes. Cette jeanpolisation des esprits, encore et toujours… mais je radote.
Il n’empêche. J’aimerais bien que l’on tonde un peu les moutons de Mao. Ils s’en sont tirés à bon compte, par quelques pirouettes, de la poudre aux yeux, et hop ! On était jeunes, disent-ils, Mao était fun, Mao était sexe, on baisait, on fumait, on était maoïste comme l’air qu’on respire, quoi de plus normal ? Hallucinante indulgence. «Le Castor comme Sartre s’étaient enchantés de la souplesse intellectuelle des communistes chinois, qui n’avaient pas interdit la prostitution comme on eût attendu qu’ils le fissent», lit-on chez Lanzmann. Souplesse intellectuelle !… Combien d’ex-maoïstes cimentent aujourd’hui la bonne conscience française et distribuent, frétillants, leçons de morale et jug²ements esthétiques, le sais-tu, toi, ô mon jeune lecteur de Libé ?
Les mâles se mènent par le manche. Une belle aristocrate va fissurer l’idylle avec Simone de Beauvoir, et poser la première marche d’un long parcours, celui des années 60, où Lanzmann, même s’il est toujours dans les jupes de Saint-Germain - il le restera toute sa vie -, commence à prendre une forme nouvelle, autonome. En juin 1967, au début de la guerre des Six-Jours, paraît un Temps modernes de plus de mille pages sur le conflit israélo-arabe. Ce numéro spécial a été conçu, voulu et accouché par Lanzmann en deux années de travail intense. Suivra, en 1973, le film Pourquoi Israël. Nous en arrivons aux viscères.
Et là, il n’y a aucun doute, le plus profond de Lanzmann, ce qui fait sa raison d’être, à chaque page de sa destinée ou presque, Shoah.Incontournable. Cette lente immersion dans les yeux de la mort. Beaucoup de choses ont été dites sur Shoah, mais j’ai l’impression qu’elles passent pour la plupart à côté de l’essentiel, pourtant simple à formuler, et qui devient limpide dans la dernière partie des Mémoires : Shoah est une œuvre d’auteur. C’est tout ? Oui, et c’est capital. Shoah n’est pas un documentaire pour Arte ni une compilation de témoignages pour clouer le bec aux négationnistes, ce n’est pas non plus un travail d’historien, comme peut l’être le livre de Hilberg, la Destruction des Juifs d’Europe. La plupart des reproches adressés à Lanzmann viennent de ce malentendu. Shoah est une Création, une œuvre d’art au sens le plus élevé, même si le matériau utilisé est la souffrance et l’abject, parce qu’elle a pour socle un regard d’auteur et qu’elle repose sur des partis pris assumés. Il faut être un doux dingue pour refuser par principe toute photo d’archive alors que les films comme Nuit et Brouillard ou le Fascisme ordinaire en abondent : aujourd’hui, avec le culte que l’on voue à l’image et à ses supposées vertus pédagogiques, ne rien montrer c’est passer pour un cachottier, un ennemi du peuple et de l’instruction publique.
«Elève». Quand on interroge un péquenaud polonais avec acharnement thérapeutique, sans jamais lâcher prise, le traquant dans les moindres recoins de ses demi-sourires fuyants, le cuisinant jusqu’à ce que son antisémitisme latent suinte, dégorge, inonde la pellicule, c’est assumer le risque d’un incident diplomatique avec la Pologne - ce qui est effectivement arrivé. Risquée également, très risquée, puisque le chef opérateur en était lui-même bouleversé, était l’idée qu’il fallait prendre des pincettes avec l’ordure nazie, poussant le bouchon jusqu’à feindre la connivence et le respect, peut-être même une certaine admiration devant leur savoir-faire unique. Un Corbeau et le Renardnew age, revu par le prisme terrifiant du XXe siècle, qu’illustre à merveille la scène où Lanzmann tend une baguette à Franz Suchomel, SS de Treblinka, en lui disant devant un grand plan du camp : «Je suis votre élève, vous êtes mon maître, vous allez m’instruire.» Cette phrase seule suffirait à remplir une vie. Oui, le courage habite Shoah,un courage d’auteur, qui est la signature de la création véritable, quand on se jette dans l’inconnu sans filet de sécurité, assumant tous les risques, y compris celui du ratage total, absolu, irréversible, le tout démultiplié par la gravité du sujet abordé.
Et l’on referme le livre en se disant que, décidément, il faudrait imposer l’étude des viscères lanzmanniennes aux diplômés des Femis, Arfis, Esec et Branlec. Pour que le cinéma d’auteur français ne soit plus cette petite crotte prétentieuse, centrée sur son nombril et entretenue à coup de contribuables. Ayant ainsi légué son corps à la communauté, le tyrannosaure pourra se consacrer à la reproduction et à la chasse. Quant à moi, lâche comme je suis, je tâcherai d’éviter Saint-Germain, son territoire. On ne sait jamais.
By Uri Klein
"Have you seen the film?" Claude Lanzmann asks me during our meeting over the weekend in Jerusalem, where he had come as a guest of this week's International Film Festival, and where his new film "Le rapport Karski" ("The Karski Report" ) is being screened
"Yes," I answer. "And what did you think?" he asks, giving me a penetrating look that could have been frightening had I not already met Lanzmann and gotten over the fear of encountering the man who created "Shoah" - the defining film in the history of dialogue between Holocaust memory and the question of how it should be portrayed on film, and one of the most important films in general.
"I think it's an outstanding movie," I tell Lanzmann, "and also a very important one, especially at this time." "Why is it important?" He continues his interrogation. I say that his new film is particularly important because it's different from many recent Holocaust films, which, in my opinion, have turned its memory into a source of cinematic entertainment and were produced out of some sense of unbearable lightness. By contrast, I add, his film reopens the question of the difficulty in dealing with the memory of an unprecedented event in human history that shakes the human ability to combine knowledge, understanding and faith.
It appears Lanzmann, 84, is satisfied with my answer and he's even kind enough to tell me why he decided to make his new film, even though he says he's already tired of telling the story that has engrossed the French press since last year's release of Yannick Haenel's book, "Jan Karski."
"When I started working on 'Shoah,'" relates Lanzmann, "many years before the film reached the screens in 1985, I was so stunned by the enormity of the event that in some places I was certain that whoever had been involved in it - the victims, the witnesses, even the hangmen - had long ago died. As a result, every time I discovered that one of them was still living, this was for me an amazing revelation, like that of an archeologist who uncovers a rare find after months of patient and difficult searching. I felt tremendous excitement, when, during my travels in the wake of the history of the Holocaust, I discovered that Jan Karski - a member of the anti-Nazi underground operating in Poland who disappeared after World War II - was still alive.
"I had read Karski's book, 'Story of a Secret State,' when it was published in the United States in 1944 - in which he describes, among other things, what happened to him during the war, his role as the contact between the underground in Poland and the Polish government-in-exile in London, his visits to the Warsaw Ghetto, and the extermination camps, and his meetings with Jewish leaders in Poland, who asked him to relay to the leaders of the world information about the destruction of the Jews. I interviewed Karski over two days in 1978, but in the end I included in 'Shoah' only sections of the interview with him on the first day.
"There were a few reasons for this," Lanzmann continues. "First of all, from a dramatic perspective, the testimony Karski provided on the first day of interviews was enough for me, and it ended with his declaration: 'I reported what I saw.' Second of all, had I included the entire interview with Karski in the film, it would have been another 50 minutes or so longer, and that, in my opinion, would have been too much. And thirdly, there was a tremendous difference between Karski's mannerisms on the first day of the interview and his mannerisms on the second day.
"On the first day, he was filled with emotion as he told me about his visits to the Warsaw Ghetto and various extermination camps, which he could not always identify by name in a precise way. He even burst into tears several times. On the second day, when he told me how he had been sent to Washington to report to president F.D. Roosevelt and other senior officials in the U.S. administration about events in Poland, he was bursting with pride and his whole behavior in front of the camera changed.
"The meeting with Roosevelt was undoubtedly the most significant event in his life, but I felt this part of the interview didn't suit the overall fabric of the film I wanted to create. I do not regret not including the second part of the interview in the film. I still have a lot of material that I filmed and did not include in 'Shoah.' Some I've already used in other films I have done since 'Shoah.'"
Breaking his silence
Lanzmann decided to release the second day of the Karski interview he conducted 32 years ago (Karski himself died in 2000 ) following Gallimard Publishers' release of Haenel's book. The same publisher put out Lanzmann's autobiography "Le Lievre de Patagonie" ("The Patagonian Hare" ) last year, which is soon to be released in Hebrew by Keter Publishing.
Lanzmann relates that Haenel's book, which is categorized as a novel, consists of three chapters. The first chapter is a paraphrasing, "not to say plagiarism," as Lanzmann notes, of Karski's comments as documented in "Shoah"; the second chapter paraphrases things Karski said in his own autobiography; the third chapter deals with the Roosevelt-Karski meeting - but includes fictional elements that contradict what Karski himself told Lanzmann. That chapter also includes mistaken conclusions regarding the ability of the Allies, first and foremost among them the United States, to come to the aid of European Jewry.
These conclusions have no connection to the actual historical reality, says Lanzmann, who relates that for a long time he refrained from reacting to Haenel's book, but eventually decided that his silence may be interpreted as him giving his blessing to the book and could contribute to its success. And so he made "The Karski Report" - a 49-minute film the entire duration of which it's impossible to take one's eyes off the captivating figure of Karski (the film will be screened a second time at the Jerusalem festival on Wednesday ).
"My objection to Haenel's book stems from the fact that, in the third chapter, he made up scenes that did not really happen," clarifies Lanzmann. "He describes Roosevelt as a joker, who was quiet throughout the entire meeting, and that is not what happened, as Karski related in the interview I did with him. More than anything, he describes Karski as someone who was entirely devoted to the Jewish issue and was a martyr because of his commitment to the matter, and this is also a complete distortion of what happened. As Karski himself stated in the interview with him, his homeland, Poland, was also at the forefront of his thoughts when he was sent to report on what has happening there. It was his mission to report to the world's leaders on Poland's suffering. The Jewish issue was only one part, even a marginal one, of this report."
Lanzmann notes that he does not object to fictionalized literature based on historical facts, but "on condition that it adds to the historical truth and does not limit or distort it. Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' created a fictionalized account on the basis of the Napoleonic wars, but it enriched the historical memory and did not limit it. Young authors such as Haenel think that with fiction it is possible to tell all. They write about history without having historical perspective and the result, which presumes to be history, is completely ahistorical."
From Jonathan Littell to Tarantino
As a contrast to Haenel's book, Lanzmann cites Jonathan Littell's novel, "The Kindly Ones," which, in his opinion, created scenes based on history and did so brilliantly.
More than anything else, Lanzmann is infuriated by the fact that Haenel, in his book, fashioned Karski as a romantic hero, fighting to rescue the Jews, which ostensibly was possible (according to the book ) were it not for the indifference of the Allies' leaders.
"This is utter nonsense," says Lanzmann, "it was not possible to save the Jews of Europe. Do you think it was possible to save the Jews of Europe?" He turns to me with what he feels is a clearly rhetorical question. "No, it was not possible to save the Jews of Europe." Lanzmann agrees with my claim that "The Karski Report" is more than just a response to Haenel's book. At one of the most powerful moments in the film, Karski relates how after he told the Jewish judge Felix Frankfurter - who was then serving on the Supreme Court and was one of the president's closest confidantes - what was happening in Poland, the judge rose in utter shock and told him: "I don't believe it! I don't believe that you are lying, but I don't believe what you are telling me."
What do you think of the many films produced in recent years focusing on the Holocaust - including, for example, "La Rafle" ("The Round Up" ) by the French director Roselyne Bosch which opened the festival?
"I refuse to see the film," Lanzmann responds unequivocally. "Even without seeing it, it's clear to me that it is part of the genre of Holocaust films that whitewash the past."
And how do you respond to those who argue that these films, which turn the Holocaust into a source of tear-jerking melodramas, are a positive phenomenon because they educate the public and preserve the memory of the Holocaust?
"This is incorrect. They are not a positive phenomenon; they do not preserve the memory, but destroy it by whitewashing the past. I already said this with the release of Steven Spielberg's 'Schindler's List,' which portrayed Oskar Schindler as a hero. But this is apparently an inevitable phenomenon because of the time that has passed since World War II and because the Shoah is now in the hands of bureaucrats.
"I have sharp criticism for all those institutions and events that seek to preserve the memory of the Shoah, such as Yad Vashem, which has undergone a process of Americanization, or the Holocaust Museum in Washington. I also oppose the youth trips to the extermination camps in Poland, which I think contribute nothing to the preservation of the memory of the Shoah in a serious and responsible manner. I have a lot of criticism inside me and I would like to be able to express this criticism to all, but it's impossible to be everyone's critic," he says, letting out a sigh.
With some hesitation, I ask Lanzmann what he thinks of Quentin Tarantino's most recent film, "Inglourious Basterds," which substantially rewrote the history of World War II. His response both surprised and didn't surprise me.
"I liked the film," he says, with a rare smiling lighting up his face. "It's amusing and crazy. In general, I like Tarantino."
Sunday 4 March 2012
He lived a remarkable life: a French resistance fighter, a friend of Jean-Paul Sartre and lover of Simone de Beauvoir. Yet he is best known for his epic film, Shoah, the definitive oral record of those who survived the Holocaust. Now, aged 87, he tells his own extraordinary story
One evening – we are not given a date, but it must be the early 1960s – the great French philosopher, essayist, novelist and pioneer of feminism Simone de Beauvoir was, as so often, at the theatre. But this was a stranger night than most. On De Beauvoir's left sat her lifelong companion and erstwhile lover, the greatest philosopher of his generation and founder of existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre. To her right was her current lover, the writer, former resistance fighter and film director Claude Lanzmann. And on stage: Lanzmann's sister Évelyne, a foremost actress of the day, playing the lead role in Sartre's play Huis Clos.
The evening had been contrived as a response to Sartre's recently conceived passion for Évelyne; he was determined to become her lover, asked Lanzmann to organise the outing and, as of this night, – "my sister was radiant, beautiful", recalls Lanzmann – duly won her heart. It was yet another association of ideas and romance in the intellectual, cultural and creative foment that was the Parisian Latin Quarter during its golden age, which were also halcyon days of European philosophy and revolutionary politics.
But of the leading protagonists in that intellectual cauldron, only one titanic figure remains, Claude Lanzmann, whose memoir is published in the UK this month.
Lanzmann is a witness of his time. He is one of the few people still living who can testify at close range to the epic events by which the second half of the 20th century is defined and measured.
During the second world war, he was a teenage guerrilla in the French resistance. In its aftermath, he was among the first western writers to probe communist East Germany, the USSR, Chairman Mao's China and even North Korea, where he fell in love. He lived and worked among that Left Bank, leftwing existentialist avant-garde around his close friend Sartre, and was for many years the lover, travelling companion and confidant of De Beauvoir. He accompanied fighters of the Algerian revolution in desert redoubts under bombardment by the French air force, befriended both its leaders and General de Gaulle, only to be tear-gassed on the streets of the Latin Quarter during the événements of May 1968. He "embedded" himself (as we would say today) with the Israeli armed forces as deeply as is possible without actually joining the IDF, or Tsahal, as he calls them, by their Hebrew name.
But most famously of all, Lanzmann researched, directed and conducted the searing interviews for what is arguably the greatest film of all time, and certainly the most ambitious: the nine-and-a-half hour – "it could have been much longer", he says – Shoah, which, more than any archive project, history book or attempt on film, remains the definitive and inimitable record for all time of the most appalling catastrophe in history.
One could put it this way: there are memoirs of survivors themselves, by writers such as Primo Levi, Charlotte Delbo, Tadeusz Borowski or Jean Améry – and there is Shoah. Nothing else can claim the same authority or cogency.
Now, Lanzmann has created a different kind of epic – a book, a memoir of his own, to record this remarkable life. "Autobiography" would be the wrong word, as its enigmatic title, The Patagonian Hare, suggests. It has no chronology, and is a meditation upon, rather than a narrative of, this life among lives.
Often, books by great men or women read humbly – or at least modestly – but when you encounter them in the flesh, there can be an element of pomp, sometimes even arrogance. With Lanzmann, it is the opposite. His book is often bombastic: "I became an able, fearless skiier, undaunted by sheer, even vertical slopes," he explains; De Beauvoir later "expressed her astonishment at how I had penetrated the dark soul of this apparently model priest", and on another occasion, she "and Sartre were waiting for me in Capri, eager to see me, hungry for stories about my trip" to North Korea.
And yet, in person, Lanzmann is the model of decorum, greeting me at his central London hotel with the impeccable manners of the really great person, who does not need airs and graces. He is physically small, but with the pugnacious build of a quarterback.
Lanzmann's narrative begins during his wartime childhood in occupied France: he describes to me in detail his assignment for the Maquis to collect suitcases of ammunition from a stranger arriving by train and his part in the ambush of a Nazi convoy as it emerged from a road tunnel in the Auvergne. But it builds towards its core, what he calls "those days" on the left bank of the Seine, along the boulevards St Michel and St Germain: "It was a liberation of France, it was the end of Nazism; it was a strong moment, and we were ready for adventure, ready for anything, to create the next world."
Lanzmann calls Sartre "the sultan of Rue Bonaparte", and his beloved De Beauvoir by her famous nickname, Castor. He confides playfully how he fixed his first date with her, asking if she would accompany him to a film; "What film?", the philosopher replied, jealous of her time. "Any film!" replied Lanzmann. After the ensuing night together, Lanzmann left for Israel, and returned to her after a flurry of letters exchanged and a terrible storm at sea, to find – he writes – "Castor's eyes, her arms, her mouth, her hands moving over my body as though to recognise it, the long, slightly tremulous embrace of our reunion."
But, he adds: "It was not love at first sight, it had to be learned, and take its time." He says that "the rapport between us was both intellectual and carnal", and describes the usual – but very unusual – working day in Paris: he and De Beauvoir would rise together and write in each other's company during the morning, after which "she lunched with Sartre, or with me, or someone else". De Beauvoir would then "spend her afternoons in Sartre's office, where she had her own desk. One evening was reserved for Sartre, the next for me; the nights we spent together. But we also often had dinner together, sometimes the three of us, on occasion with the rare friends, such as [the Swiss sculptor] Giacometti, of whom Sartre was particularly fond."
The founder of existentialism was, says Lanzmann, "magnificent, a philosophical genius – a truly great thinker, and when he started to think he was generous with what he was doing – he would share his ideas, want to discuss them. And every time you left a meeting or a conversation with Sartre, you felt this sense of being capable of doing anything, such was his special charisma." His "usual gaiety and hyper-active optimism" could sometimes sink into "a chasm of meaninglessness, the obvious, irrefutable fact that 'man is a useless passion'. Existential angst, whatever Sartre may have said while showing off … was not merely a philosophical concept but a reality."
The recollections – both in the book and in conversation – are more about travelling together than philosophising: to Spain, to Cuba, to the ancient Egyptian Sphinx and Giza, and an especially affectionate account of a drive to Athens, "Sartre chirruping like a bird, somewhere between six and eight stopovers scheduled, as well as a number of 'specials' planned by Castor, who always insisted on deviating from the shortest route in her determination not to miss some wonder of nature or art".
I ask whether there was really as little jealousy in these intense but apparently fluid friendships and relationships as the book – along with very many other accounts of them – imply. "Why should we have had any jealousy between us?" Lanzmann retorts. "When I started my love affair with Simone de Beauvoir, she had no sexual relationship at all with Sartre. They did not make love. That would have been unbearable for me – I could never share a woman I loved."
The Patagonian Hare contains much about philosophers, of course, including those who taught Lanzmann, and hilarious anecdotes about his shoplifting of philosophical texts during student days. But he does not write a great deal in the book about actual philosophy, or his own views on existentialism – "philosophically," he says in conversation, "I am very close to Sartre." Lanzmann still edits Les Temps Modernes, the Parisian cultural review founded by Sartre in 1945, and adds this: "There is this fashion nowadays to say that no one reads Sartre any more, but this is absolutely not true, and my next issue of Les Temps Modernes is entitledLes Lecteurs de Sartre [the readers of Sartre, a meditation on his friend's legacy]."
Lanzmann's book is written in a deeply satisfying style, as though he were unfolding his life as thoughts occurred to him over dinner. At one point, he laments the fate of his favourite cafe, the Royal, in which he would sit with De Beauvoir – [I frequented it myself as a youth, because she went there] on the corner of Boulevard St Germain and the Rue de Rennes. It closed to make way for the "drugstore St Germain" and in turn, says Lanzmann contemptuously, "a boutique". He similarly regrets the passing of Le Diva bookshop on the corner of Rue Bonaparte.
So far as family, sex and intense personal relationships are concerned, Lanzmann bares himself entirely, both on the page and in conversation. His mother left and forever hated his father, he clarifies, because he tried to sodomise her on their wedding night. "Among my people, there are still many women of her view," he explains, who "refuse this 'animal coupling'".
There is a raw account of his sister's life and suicide in 1966. Évelyne was deeply in love with the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who left her – which Lanzmann could never forgive, until Deleuze took his own life almost 30 years later. "When I started the book, I had no idea I would do this," he says, "that I would write about such personal things. But the more I wrote, the more it became necessary not to avoid these things. The things I write about my mother and my sister are not things I expected to write. It was extremely difficult, especially my sister's suicide, but I decided I had to tell her life, and her death." And so: "The book is a mix of these private things, set against these huge events. You never escape them, they are always present."
Indeed they are, and there is one point in Lanzmann's book at which his tone changes markedly, cueing a passage in which he describes with an uncharacteristic awe and humility his relationship with the extraordinary Frantz Fanon, who was dying of leukaemia when Lanzmann met him.
Fanon was a psychiatrist, revolutionary and existentialist philosopher from the French colony of Martinique whose treatises on black consciousness and race are arguably the finest ever written. Fanon aligned himself with the Algerian revolution and became the ambassador to Ghana for the provisional Algerian government. As a leading advocate of revolutionary violence, he is often tarnished by those who know no better as some kind of godfather of modern terrorism.
"That notion, which I have heard, is entirely false," spits Lanzmann angrily. "He was deeply, in himself, against what we nowadays call terrorism. He was a very soft man, very tender. Much of his vision was mistaken, but there was so much in what he said, one was obliged to listen to him, to approve."
Lanzmann was so enamoured of Fanon after their first meeting that he arranged for Sartre and De Beauvoir to meet him too – which they did, in Rome, for a rolling discourse lasting three days. "And it was the same with Sartre, this effect – it is absolutely true, the fact that Sartre did no work of his own over three whole days – something I never saw, before or after."
Fanon was dead by the time of the six-day war of 1967 and Israel's counter-offensive – and the seeds sown for so much ferocity since. One wonders how those conversations might have gone had Lanzmann and Fanon had them in that post-1967 world.
But Lanzmann did have a major argument over the Middle East with Sartre – probably the only one between him and the great philosopher. Sartre "refused point blank" during a study visit to Israel to meet anyone in military uniform, leading to what Lanzmann called "a drastically reduced view of the country", which Sartre, he says, saw as practising "consubstantial imperialism" (Sartre would later endorse the murder of Israeli athletes taken hostage at the 1972 Munich Olympics by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine).
I ask Lanzmann – a strong supporter of Israel and director of two important films on the Jewish state – whether one could regard this fracture with Sartre as equivalent to that between Sartre and the other great genius of existentialism – Albert Camus – over Algeria, whose independence Camus was always uncomfortable with. "Of course not," replies Lanzmann. "Sartre and I edited an edition of Les Temps Modernes together which gave over half of its pages to the Arab side, and just under half to the Israeli side; it starts with Maxime Rodinson [author of a groundbreaking book entitled Israel and the Arabs] attacking Israel."
In his book, Lanzmann says he regretted leading off the issue with Rodinson's attack on Israel. Given how central these deliberations on Israel are to his book, life, and work in film, I ask whether Lanzmann believes that the singularity of the violence of the Holocaust allows him to forgive – or perhaps tolerate – violence in defence of Israel that he would not tolerate in another context. This is the inference from his film Tsahal, made with the IDF – to which he was granted full and unfettered access – and of an intriguing, brilliant point Lanzmann makes about soldiers who wear their hair long, as the IDF do, in contrast to the bullet-headed norm of any American, French, British or Russian squaddie.
"It is complex," Lanzmann says, and there is a pause. "I don't want to go into policy, but there are so many victims who become killers. It's a question of life. Every young Israeli soldier knows that if he is caught during an ambush, he will be tortured and lynched. There was the case of the soldiers who lost their way – and Israel delivered 1,027 Palestinian prisoners to get back just one Israeli soldier. One has to think about the lack of equality in this exchange… There is a real integrity in this army. It is not only about the survival of Israel, it is the uniqueness of the fate of this country. And the fact that one does not see an end to this."
"Are you against Israel?" asks Lanzmann as I write his answer. I reply that I am very interested in the work of Daniel Barenboim, in getting young Israeli and Palestinian musicians together to play orchestral music. "Barenboim is against the state of Israel," says Lanzmann. And he urges: "We should talk about the book" – which, in a way, we are.
Lanzmann has an extraordinary relationship with Germany. He was the first French writer to tour with relative freedom around the communist German Democratic Republic – "I must have been crazy," he confides now – and he adores Berlin. "The Germans have faced their past," he says. "They do not try to escape it – some, of course, but most, no. The first time that Shoah was shown in Germany was at the Berlin film festival of 1986. The cinema was completely packed. The people were so intensely involved, they sometimes could not stand it. They'd go out and smoke a cigarette, but they returned. Young Germans came to me, wanting to speak about this past, to stare at this past; the discussions would last almost a full night."
Which brings us to the matter of the greatest film of all time. "Holocaust," says Lanzmann, "is an improper word, an inappropriate word. It is an invention of the Americans and British. The appropriate word is Shoah [the Hebrew for catastrophe or calamity]."
To find the right word to describe those who survived the Nazi exterminations is the perennial difficulty of anyone trying to write on the subject. "Victims" is clearly wrong, since it both belittles and confuses them with those who perished; "survivors" is a passable word, but Lanzmann finds a better one: "revenants" – the returned, which in French can also mean ghosts. It is a term that recalls those terrifying lines from a poem by Lanzmann's compatriot, resistance fighter and Auschwitz survivor, Charlotte Delbo: "And so I came back/ You did not know, did you/ That one can come back from there."
Delbo also sets the language for further matters crucial to any discourse with revenants who survived the Holocaust: the associated issues of memory, and self-destruction. Between what Delbo calls memoire ordinaire – ordinary memory, which permits one to function – andmemoire profonde – deep memory, which contains the truth of experience – is a skin, which, when cracked, "gives back the contents", as Delbo puts it, of deep memory, and their full, catastrophic force. How could Lanzmann, in this great work, talk to the revenants without cracking the skin between the memory that allows them to function, and that which contains what they know?
"It was extremely difficult," he says, illustrating his point with reference to a man he calls the Barber of Treblinka, a Jewish prisoner called Abraham Bomba, forced to cut the hair of women before they were sent to their deaths in the gas ovens, in accordance with the Nazis' grotesque preoccupation with the value of their victims' tresses. His book tells us the stories of how he found each member of his cast, and finding Bomba was a chase – across the Bronx, Pelham Parkway, Upstate New York and Israel. Once arranged, the interview is conducted in a barber's shop. "How difficult it is," Lanzmann explains by way of understatement, "to tell these things in front of a camera and a cinematic team. To relate what he went through, cutting the hair off naked women before they went to the gas chambers, with no possibility to tell them that they were about to die in a few minutes.
"I wanted him entirely to myself, first, to talk. Bomba had a wife who wanted to talk for him. So I took him to a little hut in the mountains in New York state which belonged to him, with no one but him and I. We spent two days there – no camera, no tape recorder, hardly a pen; I did not take notes. He understood that I was not only interested, but completely sincere, in my understanding of the Jewish pity of Shoah."
There was also of course, the raw instinct that makes for great – as opposed to good, let alone mediocre – film-making: "I had to know as much as I could before shooting anything, in order to help them talk in front of camera. The act of shooting is to create something in itself, that cannot be foreseen – and I could not foresee the moment when Bomba suddenly broke." It is a fearsome, indescribable moment, when the "skin" begins to crack before our eyes, between the face and voice of the barber, and what he knows – yet apparently not so; Bomba survived not only Treblinka, but the telling of Treblinka.
"In the beginning, he talked in a cold manner, as if it did not happen to him, but to someone else. I had to stop that, and bring him back to talking about what he did, to talk about himself. But one has to be on permanent alarm in such talk, as the tension grows, and we cannot be sure what will happen – this is not theatre, this is real."
All the while, the reel rolls, and there is this question of judgment: "I had to work with short rolls of film, which had to be reloaded every 11 minutes. I had five minutes left on the reel at one point, which is a lot in a way. But I decided to reload the film nonetheless, and I was right – Bomba broke into tears – and if I had not changed the roll, I'd have missed it."
Lanzmann's epic is divided between survivors, witnesses and perpetrators. His accounts of tracing, locating and filming the SS and Nazi killers – usually with hidden cameras – make for some of the most exciting passages of the book. But of the revenants, he explains: "From the Jews, I wanted to know everything. All these are people who 'worked' for the Nazis, in the Sonderkommando [groups of Jewish prisoners forced to perform tasks in the extermination]. "They are not the normal deportees," says Lanzmann. "They were workers in the last station of the destruction process." I tell Lanzmann that I have just completed a book about survival of the camps in the Bosnian war which the Auschwitz survivor Thomas Buergenthal, former chairman of the committee on conscience at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC had called "an echo" of the Shoah, helping me to establish a respectful but cogent language.
Then Lanzmann says: "I must tell you that my main theme is not survival. It is film about death and the extremity of death in the gas chambers." Of course. As the great historian of Holocaust memory, Lawrence Langer says, all testimony of the Shoah is charged with the fact that the narrative's main protagonists, the dead, cannot speak.
"Not one of them should have remained in order to testify," says Lanzmann softly. "They were to die too. They succeeded in escaping their fate with an extraordinary mixture of courage, audacity and luck. But [in the film] they were not interested in talking about how they succeeded in escaping, how they survived. They were entirely conscious of the fact that they were the spokesmen for the dead."
Silence fills the room in Pall Mall, for there is everything, but nothing, further to say.
Why The Patagonian Hare? Hares make three appearances in the book. The first is its opening, a passage reproduced from The Golden Hare by Silvina Ocampo, in which a hare is being chased by hounds: "Where are we headed?" cried the hare, in a voice that quavered like a lightning flash. "To the end of your life', howled the dogs." "I know the whole story by heart," says Lanzmann.
The second describes a moment in Patagonia, which Lanzmann takes as a cue for the affirmation of life itself. He is driving when "a long-legged hare leapt like an arrow and hopped across the road in front of me. I had just seen a Patagonian hare, a magical animal. Now, all of Patagonia suddenly pierced my heart with the sure knowledge of our mutual existence."
He wears a tie with a repeated design of hares jumping around it. "I love them," he says. "I respect them, and their nobility. They are very, very beautiful animals. So fast, and their speed is their means of survival; every time I meet a hare, I know I am safe for a long time."
The third mention in the book is by far its most spine-chilling moment – at once utterly surreal and spectrally redemptive in the strangest way: "If there is any truth to metempsychosis and if I were given the choice," he writes, "I would unhesitatingly come back as a hare. In Shoah, there are two shots that are fleeting but crucial to me, [one is of] a hare, its fur the colour of the earth, sitting by the barbed wire fence at Birkenau extermination camp while a rare escapee from Auschwitz called Rudolf Vrba speaks. As Vrba continues, we see the animal flatten its back, hunker down and crawl under the barbed wire. He too escapes. There is no killing in Auschwitz-Birkenau now, not even of animals; all forms of hunting are forbidden. No one keeps count of the hares, but there are a lot of them and I would like to think that many of my people chose, as I would, to come back as hares."
"I watched it, that animal," says Lanzmann, his final remark before we bid farewell, "arriving at the fence at Auschwitz, and burrowing its way under the wire, cunning and determined, knowing it had to leave that place..."
15 Mar 2012
By Nicholas Shakespeare
The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir
by Claude Lanzmann
On page 221 of this remarkable memoir, the French writer and film director Claude Lanzmann, today aged 86, makes a revealing error. In 1977, he nearly drowns while swimming off Caesarea and is miraculously saved by a lifeguard, Yossi. “The previous Sunday, at precisely the same spot, the British Ambassador to Israel had drowned and Yossi, alerted too late, had only recovered his corpse.” But Anthony Elliott died on Saturday 28 August 1976, a year and a day before. Some might invoke this slip to undermine the difficult task of remembering that Lanzmann has set himself, fired by “an insane desire to tell the truth”; to me, it illustrates nothing more clearly than his obsession with prolonging life, summed up by the Auschwitz survivor who tells him: “I wanted to live, live with every fibre of my being, one minute more, one day more, one month more. You understand? To live!”
During a 1992 symposium at the Sorbonne, Professor Pierre Vidal-Naquet scandalised colleagues by claiming that history was “something too serious to be left to historians” – and cited the work of Primo Levi and Claude Lanzmann’s nine-hour documentary Shoah, which, he said, had done more to enhance our knowledge of the extermination of European Jewry than any professional historian.
At an obvious level, The Patagonian Hare is about death – of six million Jews, of the Resistance fighters alongside whom Lanzmann fought, of the men and women he has loved, pre-eminent among them Jean-Paul Sartre (who had an affair with Lanzmann’s sister, Evelyne, before she killed herself) and Simone de Beauvoir (who, in a symmetrical ménage, lived with Lanzmann for seven years and signed her letters to him “your wife”); of the three hares that he accidentally runs over in Yugoslavia.
But his memoir is also – surprisingly and triumphantly – a childlike celebration of life as Lanzmann sees it epitomised by the singularity of another hare that bounds out of the darkness and across his headlights outside the Patagonian village of El Calafate. “I was almost 70 years old but my whole being leapt with a wild joy, as it did when I was 20.”
Lanzmann was an unreligious boy from Clermont-Ferrand who carried the burden of the oldest child: at the age of six he felt responsible for everyone.
Humourless, tenacious, brusque, he was always a lone and recalcitrant wolf. In 1941, asked by his teacher to write an essay in praise of Marshal Pétain, “I sat, arms folded, for the whole period allocated to the essay, then ostentatiously handed in a blank sheet.” His hero was de Gaulle, who four years later refused to pardon the death sentence imposed on the anti-Semitic writer Robert Brasillach, explaining that “in literature, too, talent confers responsibility”. In de Gaulle’s confession that he did not sleep on the night before Brasillach’s execution, because “in my own way, I had to go with him”, is condensed Lanzmann's own brand of empathy. His ability to place himself on the side of victims, executioners and accomplices is the spirit of neurotic kinship that enabled and informs Shoah; also, the articles that he wrote as a journalist: “in-depth research, distancing myself, forgetting myself, entering into the reasons and the madness, the lies and the silences of those I wished to portray… until I reach a precise, hallucinatory state of hyper-alertness, a state that, to me, is the essence of the imagination.”
During his years in the Resistance, Lanzmann learnt techniques to avoid being shadowed. In his Gallic self-belief, he succeeds sometimes in losing the Anglo-Saxon reader. A fearless skier and mountaineer, “undaunted by sheer, even vertical slopes”, he lacks the humility and understatedness, for example, of those Englishmen he holds up as models, among them the Battle of Britain pilot Richard Hillary, whose book The Last Enemy he rates as one of the greatest on war, and the climber George Mallory, whose response to the question “Why climb Everest?” – “Because it’s there” – Lanzmann considers “the truest, the greatest answer”. Another unlikely hero is the character played by Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter, a film Lanzmann watched with Sartre.
In his own dealings with women, on whom he has plainly an electrifying effect, Lanzmann is anything but Trevor Howard. He loathes “with every fibre of my being, the billing and cooing of courtship” – and “in my rough and ready way” heads straight for “the thing itself”.
His women are routinely beautiful, but none of them inflame his fidelity and love more intensely than a North Korean nurse who injects his buttocks with regenerative vitamins while on a visit to Pyongyang in 1955. The single “fabulous day” he spends with her, ending with a passionate embrace in a hospital courtyard, is one of the book’s set-pieces. Never once in the next 50 years does he forget Kim Kum-Sun, a woman he calls “my beloved”, with whom he has no congress, not even a conversation: the one word he understands, when she removes her shirt to reveal the ghostly burn beneath her breast, is “napalm”.
The second set-piece describes the 12 years he devoted to filming Shoah: “I yielded to no one, I betrayed no one.” He made it with no commentary, no archive footage, as if further to stress the incredible fact that in the 65 years since the events not a single contemporary photograph has been found of Belzec extermination camp, or Sobibor or Chelmno; not a single photograph of anyone snatching a last breath. As someone said of Shoah, powerfully shaking Lanzmann’s hand after the first screening in 1985, and as this dense memoir ringingly endorses: “That justifies a life.”
06 Mar 2012
The Patagonian Hare
It is hard to imagine Claude Lanzmann as a postman – the job that in adolescence his father tried to chivvy him towards. He is the pugnacious, exuberant French intellectual now approaching 90, who has been in turn communist Resistance fighter against the Nazis, ally of Jean-Paul Sartre, polemicist and documentary film-maker. He is best known for assembling the nine-and-a-half hour film Shoah, a heart-rending oral history of the Holocaust.
These extraordinary memoirs (a bestseller in France) were dictated by Lanzmann to two younger women, Juliette Simont, a leading Sartrienne, and Sarah Strelinski, a novelist who acts as his secretary. This process created a book that is intimate, seductive, ardent and overbearing.
The venerated sage talks in long, sonorous paragraphs to his attentive, disciplined acolytes. His words seem to reach the reader as if carried on a precious salver. He rejoices audibly in the spacious urbanity of his mind.
The result is sumptuous but bombastic. The Patagonian Hare is monstrously vain, a rodomontade of Lanzmann’s triumphs, as well as cinematically vivid, bursting with memorable stories and endlessly fascinating.
The early chapters recall his disrupted upbringing – his parents (the children of east European Jewish immigrants) separated when he was small – and the war years during which his family survived in Brioude, a strange little town on a high plateau in the Massif Central. There is much oddity in these chapters (a schoolmaster who likens orgasm to strangling a pigeon), heroism in his accounts of the Resistance, and intensity in his evocations of wartime Paris and provincial France.
Always Lanzmann’s spasms of self-criticism have a self-congratulatory tinge: “My mother was incapable of choosing, she wanted everything. I’m like her.”
The greatness of Lanzmann is that he shies away from nothing. The diversity of his experiences and the aggression with which he tramples contradictions are everywhere evident. He writes gratefully of luxury restaurants like the Colombe d’Or, but endured real hardship in the camps of Arab anti-colonialist freedom fighters, and visited China and North Korea at times of fearsome brutality. He befriended Frantz Fanon, the anti-colonial revolutionary, yet writes with sympathy of the most recalcitrant Israeli militarists. After he became Simone de Beauvoir’s lover, Sartre competitively, incestuously set up Lanzmann’s actress sister in a flat as a mistress.
Lanzmann admits to having used amphetamines for years, and the story of his life resembles that of Hemingway whizzing along on speed. He welcomes “insane challenges and dares”. His paragliding instructor was “won over by my fearlessness and my head for heights”. In the Alps, “I became an able, fearless skier, undaunted by sheer, even vertical slopes, capable of skiing anywhere”. On board a ship, in a torrential storm, “I refused to go down, it was as simple as that.” At his insistence, “I was tightly lashed to the poop deck facing the bow and… imagined myself slicing through the waves.” He was the only passenger not to vomit: instead he dined with the captain, who “laid on for my benefit a fine Bordeaux”.
As he dictated his memoirs to Simont and Strelinski, Lanzmann indulged in copious sexual bragging. “Honestly,” he says, from the age of 15 onwards “I was not keen on masturbation.” Sex goddesses trusted him. “I met them all,” he writes of Simone Signoret, Jeanne Moreau, Bardot, Liz Taylor and Ava Gardner, “and I can say without vanity that I helped some of them to make a qualitative leap in their careers.” When young he was a “past-master” at the silky hypocrisies needed to get women into bed, but came to “loathe… the billing and cooing of courtship [as] a waste of time… these days I head straight for 'the thing itself’, which suits me. This repugnance probably explains my taste for womanly women, and my lack of interest in virgins.”
Lanzmann mistakenly writes that the sexual position known as du duc d’Aumale involves the woman crouching on all fours. Actually, it requires the woman to sit atop the man facing him; but perhaps he was too keen to reach “the thing itself” to notice which way his partners faced.
The Boston Globe
Right at the start of Claude Lanzmann’s hefty, jagged, and eventually overpowering memoir comes a passage about guillotines - the French model, tall and narrow, the German squat and stubby - and his own childhood nightmares about them. No longer in use, but who knows, someday they could be brought back.
To be sure, “I have no neck,’’ he writes of his own hunched physique; reassurance, perhaps, but what about his shoulders? And goes on for pages listing other forms of state killings: firing squads, the Chinese bullet in the back of the head, the Spanish garrote, Goya’s wild-eyed Tres de Mayo executions, Afghan beheaders whose inept knife-sawings were distributed on videos. “Butchers,’’ he writes; then apologizes: They are “the least barbarous of men.’’
So broods the creator of “Shoah,’’ that nine-hour masterpiece of one of history’s worst horrors, 12 years in the making, whose peculiar achievement was to get the past to live again - die again - in the present. And to accomplish this by a near-mystical, almost scandalous refusal to use archival photographs of the concentration camps, the skeletal survivors, the stacked-up corpses. No. Everything is told through the living: filmed interviews with aged survivors, and a few reluctant (often hoodwinked) Nazi perpetrators, with a barber in Israel who had been forced to cut the hair of women about to be gassed, with aged residents of a quiet Polish village whose railroad station bears the sign Treblinka. Death not through old images of the dead (awful, of course, but past, surely) but through present images of the living (not past at all).
Lanzmann is alive, though 85; and before he gets to writing about his film, he writes about a great deal of living. The “Shoah’’ section takes up only the last fifth of the memoir, though it is by far the most powerful (it is where the significance of “The Patagonian Hare’’ title emerges: a jerk of living reality provided when a rabbit leaps out as he was driving in an abstract daze through southern Chile). Much of the rest is interesting, and some much more than that, though there are passages of slack writing, and wordy asides on mountain-climbing, a gliding hobby, and more detail than we may want about his long and successful journalistic career.
After the marriage of his parents, French Jews and strong-minded, broke up, young Claude lived with his father and his father’s mistress in a little town in the south, while his mother and her lover, a Romanian poet and also Jewish, stayed in wartime Paris. The mother managed to intimidate Gestapo interrogators by furiously denying her Jewishness and pointing to a photo of Goering on the wall as an example of a true Semitic face; the poet managed differently. One gestapo agent asked another as they donned white coats to check the foreskin whether he knew anything about penises. Fear, however, had retracted the poet’s equipment so as to make checking unfeasible.
As a schoolboy Lanzmann passed out Resistance fliers, only to discover that his father was high up in the network. Both took to the Maquis; Lanzman gives a lively account of their not very successful efforts to ambush German convoys. When war ended he returned to Paris to live with his mother and attend a prestigious lycée. To his disgust, he found that most of the students were well-to-do and still sympathetic to Vichy. “I immediately realized . . . that the great ship France had continued on its way, insensible to the catastrophe of others.’’
He tells of literary friendships and love affairs; then when his sister, an actress, became a mistress of Jean-Paul Sartre (he calls him a formidable seducer, “the sultan of the rue Bonaparte’’) he entered the most important relationship of his life: a seven-year liaison with Simone de Beauvoir. It was three-way; Sartre was a mentor, a close friend, and delighted with the affair.
Lanzmann draws an affecting portrait of two figures irrevocably attached but perhaps more passionately devoted to openness and truth than to passion itself. Holidaying on the Côte d’Azur the trio would dine at two adjacent restaurants. On Monday, Sartre and Beauvoir would go to one and Lanzmann to the other; on Tuesday, he and Beauvoir would eat together while Sartre ate alone; on Wednesday, all three ate together.
It was during one of several visits to Israel, where he’d made an earlier film, that Lanzmann was asked by a senior official to try to depict the Holocaust from the point of view of the victims. He’d not thought about the subject much, knew little, and was overwhelmed. Indeed, he felt himself to be more French than Jewish, both outsider and insider in France and Israel. He found that his initial distance from his subject was a help, artistically. “No true creation without opacity,’’ he writes.
Bit by bit he felt his way, powered from the start by the decision to film only in the present. The former Sonder commandos - Jews forced to do the camps’ ghastly menial work - figured prominently. One whose job was to pull the corpses from the ovens managed to escape: The dogs pursuing him were so sickened by the reek of the dead that they collapsed, whining. With enormous difficulty Lanzmann tracked down death camp officials who had escaped prosecution, passing himself off as a history researcher interested in the efficiency of their work, and using a hidden camera. Discovered, he was chased and beaten by one man’s sons.
Lying had to be part of his method. When Menachem Begin offered support, his staff insisted that the film run no more than two hours and take no more than 18 months to be made. Lanzmann agreed with no intention of complying. The nine hours, the 12 years, were the product of agonizing blind alleys, re-configuring of plans, and desperate efforts to raise money.
A final section tells of reaction to the film: fervent praise for the most part, though the Polish government protested. The chief rabbi of Paris, René-Samuel Sirat, rushed out partway through the opening, appalled by the theme: not survival but destruction. Most poignant was the anguish of Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, archbishop of Paris. He and Lanzmann had held long, sympathetic discussions; but the cardinal, a Jew whose mother had died in a concentration camp and who was subsequently raised as a Catholic, evaded a plea to watch it. Finally he invited Lanzmann for dinner; videos were scattered around. “I’ve watched it, you see? I’ve watched it!’’ the cardinal repeated, and after a few minutes confessed: “I can’t do it. I just can’t. I’ve managed to watch about a minute of it a day. Please forgive me.’’
“I forgave him,’’ Lanzmann writes, adding wryly, perhaps one-sidedly - the single side of a visionary who struggled for a dozen years to proclaim a truth - “The reactions of Rabbi Sirat and the cardinal are strangely similar: evil does not exist.’’
London Review of Books
The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir by Claude Lanzmann, translated by Frank Wynne Atlantic, 528 pp,, March, ISBN 978 1 84887 360 5
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by Troy Jollimore Barnes & Noble Review
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Ingrid Galster, »Eine große Qualität meines Buches ist seine Ehrlichkeit«, Postscriptum zu der Debatte um die Autobiographie Claude Lanzmanns, in DAS ARGUMENT 290/2011
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This article appeared in the July 2-9, 2012 edition of The Nation.
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