Barbaric poetry

Are there subjects that (should) escape cinema? Are there images that (must) remain unfilmed? If there is one such subject, one such image, then it is that of the Holocaust. Attempts to fictionalize that atrocity, even the ones that were met with acclaim and accolades, were often also the subject of fierce criticism.


Leigh Singer addresses this topic in a well-researched and meticulously constructed video essay for Sight & Sound. He catalogues the approaches different filmmakers have used to tackle the Shoah, using case studies of several landmark works on the subject (Lanzmann’s Shoah and Resnais’ Nuit et Brouillard among others).


But the ultimate and recurring question is an ethical, even a philosophic one. Should movies leave this unimaginable horror to the imagination of the viewer? Or can it be filmed in such a way that the Shoah’s nauseating nature is not diminished by the mere fact of representation? To his credit, Singer doesn’t come down on one side or the other of the argument, instead calmly and respectfully surveying the field. In doing so, this video essay itself becomes an important contribution to the debate.