It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In watching a documentary that depends almost entirely on the testimony and self-presentation of its central subject, individual viewers ultimately have to decide whether or not they believe that person, or to what extent they believe him. In "The Last of the Unjust," French documentarian Claude Lanzmann's nearly four-hour addendum to his monumental Holocaust chronicle "Shoah," the subject is Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, the only survivor from a group of Jewish "Elders" who, in effect, helped the Nazis run some of their concentration camps and after the war were accused of collaboration.
My hunch is that most viewers, whatever their previous views on this fraught subject, will come away not only fascinated but largely convinced by Murmelstein, who comes across as extremely intelligent, self-aware, sincere and honest, and whose explanations of his actions at the Czech "show" camp Theresienstadt seem eminently sensible and defensible, even as they offer a window into a strange corner of the Nazi horror. If that view prevails, Lanzmann will have performed another great service of revisionist clarification to those concerned with Holocaust.
Although he later decided the footage didn't fit "Shoah" and only recently fashioned it into a stand-alone film, Lanzmann interviewed Murmelstein in 1975 at his home in Rome. One of the bitter ironies of his story is that though Murmelstein loved Israel, he never visited there because of the suspicions visited on him and other camp elders, even though he might have helped considerably in the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann.
Indeed, it's likely that no Jew ever had a closer view of Eichmann than Murmelstein, who, as a rabbi in Vienna in 1938, worked under the Nazi leader—and instructed him in Jewish culture—while managing to save 120,000 Jews by getting them out of the country. Repudiating Hannah Arendt, whose reporting of Eichmann's post-war trial in Israel was so defamatory to wartime Jewish Elders like himself, he says the German commander was no embodiment of "the banality of evil" but rather a uniquely evil, sadistic and anti-Semitic "demon."