Every summer, the tiny French village of Lussas – less than a thousand souls living off the surrounding vineyards and orchards – turns into the “Etats Generaux” of documentary film. It is named after the exceptional assemblies called for by French kings from the 14th Century until the French Revolution, when the representatives of the different classes of the realm were asked to deliberate on crucial matters; the “Estates General” of Lussas are a non-competitive gathering of filmmakers, producers, critics and film-lovers to assess current documentary production, follow up its lineage to previous works and identify new aspects of the documentary genre.
More than 4000 people converge here from all over France and nearby countries to participate in this large assembly-like event, to view and discuss films with passion and commitment. Many of them are enthusiastic young people who plant their tents on the fields that local farmers have put at the disposal of the organization.
From early morning until late evening, a constant stream of people walk through the only crossroad of the village to reach one of the five screening locations, carrying a small basket of fresh fruit in one hand and a copy of the daily film bulletin on the other.
The specific angle of the “Etats Generaux” can best be appreciated during the thematic workshops organised by film critics to explore how a specific issue or theme is treated by different filmmakers – in works that are both old and new. It is the case of Olaf Möller’s challenging journey into the representation of evil in nine documentary films spanning around thirty years from the trial against Eichmann to the recent film by Gianfranco Rosi –who is present during the discussions – about a Mexican contract killer.
The workshop is called “donner à entendre”, a French expression that means at once to “let you understand” and “to let you listen”. Indeed the films proposed by Möller are about the voice that can testify, denounce, boast or confess, the voice of the evildoer or the victim, directly or by way of an interposed party. Himmler’s “spoken speech”, the flow of words, the texture of the voice and its hesitations, the laughter of the officers
Evil is one of the hardest subjects for a filmmaker to deal with. You cannot ignore that there are two opposite sides, that of the “criminal” and of the “victim”, and that by exploring the side of the criminal you have to find a balance within the unbalance.
Portraying an individual who committed violent crimes is a doubleedged sword: it can slip into an involuntary eulogy or generate morbid fascination unless you observe evil from a distance, through the testimonies of those who suffered, once the evildoer has been captured and committed to justice. This would be the classical, safe set-up. Möller chooses to show an Israeli production from 1979, Memories of the Eichmann Trial (1979) by David Perlov to prove that things are a little more complex than that. Perlov interrogates two generations of people, witnesses of the holocaust and young men and women who grew up in Israel, to find out about their impressions of the trial.
The Eichmann trial received international media coverage and was broadcast live. It was a carefully staged ceremony that aimed at reassuring the survivors that justice had been
done. Hannah Arendt attended the trial as a reporter for The New Yorker. She crystallized her impression of the man in her famous formula, the “banality of evil”. Evil is banal, it is easy to commit. And those who commit it do not look remarkable, neither in appearance nor intellect. Arendt wrote it, the people interviewed by Perlov confirm it: the man Eichmann is an average man. But this does not make him less terrifying.
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