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Claude Lanzmann and the IDF

- Abstract

Tsahal, the French director Claude Lanzmann’s five-hour movie about the Israeli army that recently closed after a brief run in New York and Israel, is a disappointment, although not necessarily—as most of its Israeli critics seemed to think—because it is too appreciative of its subject.

Both cinematically and thematically, Tsahal (the Hebrew name for Israel’s army, an acronym formed from Tsva Haganah Leyisrael, the Israel Defense Force or IDF) is a sequel to Lanzmann’s ten-hour Shoah (1985), an extraordinary documentary about the Holocaust. Like Shoah, it eschews all previous documentary footage and consists largely of interviews with people recollecting the past; and like Shoah, too, it proceeds slowly and with enormous patience, its camera often resting on its interviewees’ faces for long periods of silence while they struggle with their emotions or seek to phrase or collect their thoughts. Tsahal also follows Shoah in counter-pointing such interviews with lengthy visual meditations on still landscapes and moving vehicles—in Shoah these are of trains and the Polish countryside, while in Tsahal they are mostly of desert and tanks—which serve as a brooding commentary on the halting words of men.

About the Author

Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a veteran contributor to COMMENTARY. Portions of the present essay were delivered at Northwestern University in March as the Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.