The Last of the Unjust Blu-ray Review
There are few historical subject matters that elicit a more immediate and powerful rush of emotion than the Holocaust. And although there are many great scripted films that capture the essence of one of the darkest times in human history, very few can capture the ominous tone and raw devastation in a way accomplished by a documentary. In a follow-up to his heralded SHOAH, director Claude Lanzmann focuses the cameras on a relatively unlit corner of the carnage … Theresienstandt.
In THE LAST OF THE UNJUST Lanzmann unveils his epic 1975 interview with Benjamin Murmelstein, the last to be president of the Jewish Council in the singular ghetto of Theresienstandt in Czechoslovakia, which was used as a sadistic model camp to alleviate outsiders’ concerns with the Nazi agenda. The heinous responsibility forced upon Murmelstein was to oversee the process of incarceration and extermination of the inmates; later in life faced with the impossible task of defending himself for his cooperation and trying to convey a situation that cannot possibly be fully understood through words alone.
THE LAST OF THE UNJUST unravels just about every inch of unnerving thread of Murmelstein’s story while Lanzmann uses the metaphorical equivalent of a razor sharp quill to delicately cut in modern-day footage of himself amidst the ruins of Theresienstandt, art work of its inhabitants and fragments of a chilling propaganda film the Nazi’s used to promote the faux “gift to the Jews.”
Lanzmann’s interviewing technique is polite, yet satisfyingly relentless. Murmelstein does not shy away from animatedly defending his actions at Theresienstandt, but Lanzmann pushes the issue and is never content with general or vague answers. Though, as fascinating as every word Murmelstein has to offer, ultimately his place in the annals of this tragedy is viewed as an afterthought and the extensive nature of the film can’t help but lend itself to redundancy. Originally this interview was to be part of SHOAH, and perhaps a more condensed version of it would’ve been even more powerful as an integral part of another film, but Lanzmann decided to keep it to himself for many years, a decision he came to regret which culminated in the overcompensation of the 220 minute THE LAST OF THE UNJUST.
The real stronghold of this epic lies in the most recent material of Lanzmann as an older man, reminiscing some of Murmelstein’s writings at the locations of the original interview. The juxtaposition of images displaying places that were once the origin of atrocities against humanity and now as mundane as your standard commuter train station, poignantly illustrate the simultaneous cold heartedness and comforting solace that is the progression of time.
Viewers will most likely be polarized by Murmelstein, either believing and/or sympathizing with his no-win situation or they’ll simply take the hard line of him being a Nazi collaborator that should’ve given his life rather than partake in even a second-hand nature of what was essentially a concentration camp. However, no matter what judgment they reserve, THE LAST OF THE UNJUST will at the very least leave a few viable wrinkles in its audience’s grey matter as a powerful piece of history that warrants further discussion.
Video: 1080p, 1.85:1 Widescreen: Of course a documentary concerning such dated material is allotted much more leeway in terms of video quality as there is a definite ceiling that photo and video from the WWII era can be upscaled. What can be applauded though is the archival footage is noticeably clean and discernible. The more recent footage is up to today’s HD standards and “pops” even more due to the juxtaposition of the archived footage.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: The audio track did not have any heavy lifting to do in this piece. The audio was crisp and clear, fulfilling its only real task.
Interview with Director Claude Lanzmann and Colin Keveney (4 min): Lanzmann gives his take on Murmelstein, pretty much siding with him and defending his position within Theresienstandt.
Theatrical Trailer (2 min)