Shoah: The Four Sisters, Lanzmann's Final Words

Claude Lanzmann was interviewed in 2013 for the release of The Last Of the Unjust, his fifth film returning to his seemingly endless collection of footage shot for what is surely the ultimate documentary on the Holocaust, Shoah.  He was asked if that would now be his final word on the subject, and he replied, "I don’t know.  Maybe I can make some other film."  It turned out, in 2018 - the last year of his life - he would make four more.  The Hippocratic Oath, The Merry Flea, Baluty and Noah's Ark, a themed quartet of women's survivor stories collectively titled Shoah: The Four Sisters, first aired on French television and have now been made available on DVD and blu in the UK from Eureka! Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema series.
Each of these films, which range in length from 55 minutes to 93, essentially consist of a single interview with a single female survivor.  Again, these interviews were filmed back in the 70s for Shoah, but only two of these women made the final cut of that film, and then, only briefly.  Paula Biren of Baluty appears in the first chapter of Shoah for just over one minute, and Ruth Elias of The Hippocratic Oath appears in the second chapter just over two.  Unlike The Last Of the Unjust, nothing new has been shot, only a handful of photographs have been added into two of the stories.  This is all, previously unseen Shoah material.  And yes, to be clear, it's completely unseen.  Even the brief clips of the two women who were in Shoah do not repeat here, although they're clearly from the same recorded sessions.  To really get into the weeds of it, there's a cut at 37.06 in The Hippocratic Oath where I believe Ruth's section from Shoah originates from.
Criterion's 2013 Shoah blu top; Eureka's 2019 Four Sisters blu bottom.
But these films are no less effective for being "deleted scenes" from the 1985 masterpiece.  In fact, they may be the most powerful of all of them, by virtue of being completely personal and undiluted recollections of their tragedies.  Where Lanzmann previously intercut between different subjects, mixed new footage and old, included outsiders and even Nazis, often focusing on establishing historical record by detailing dates and locations, here he just sits with each woman and we listen to their harrowing journeys from beginning to end.  And they're far from redundant.  One woman was the subject of medical experiments while another became a police officer in a Jewish ghetto.  So you'll be just as riveted by the fourth story as the first.
Criterion's 2013 Shoah blu top; Eureka's 2019 Four Sisters blu lower two.
Eureka presents Shoah: The Four Sisters in 1.33:1, a slight shift in aspect ratio from Criterion's 1.37:1, but I presume that discrepancy is less an inaccuracy of either disc and more a perfectly fair distinction between two entirely different movies.  Of course, it's highly unusual to compare two different films like this, but I think in this rare case, it could be useful.  More than the framing, you're probably noticing the extreme shift in color timing of the same footage in the two instances.  Is this the result of Criterion and Eureka taking two different approaches to the same footage, or more likely: a creative approach by the filmmakers forging new films from what just so happens to be the same source?  Fair enough; the two projects aren't obligated to look exactly alike, and Four Sisters includes a color grader and multiple post-production crew members in its closing credits.  So presumably, this film has crafted its own entirely deliberate look, and in fact the new timing looks both more natural and aesthetically pleasing.  I daresay you could call the colors here "corrected."  Eureka's not wrong for not matching Criterion's Shoah blu.  But now look at the third shot.  We see some serious ghosting... what looks like an attempt to correct some nasty interlacing.  And the thing is: the original film footage isn't interlaced.
Shoah left; Baluty right.
See, here's why I've dragged a Criterion comparison into this: that interlacing problem isn't present on their blu, and unlike the new color timing or slightly different AR, I feel comfortable saying this is a flaw that shouldn't be here.  I highly doubt Lanzmann said, "can you corrupt the digital image so it stutters whenever there's any motion?"  So, sure, I don't know if this is Eureka's error.  They seem to be taking a lot of care, in providing these relatively short film two dual-layered, 1080p discs despite this looking like a blu-ray/ DVD comparison.  It may well be that Lanzmann himself used an interlaced encode of his footage to edit Four Sisters with, one of those post production guys may've not known the finer points of his job, or perhaps Eureka had to use the television broadcast, which is typically interlaced, as their source.  Either way, it's unfortunate.  The footage here is also noticeably softer than Criterion's, which is presumably a result of the de-interlacing that somebody at some stage must've applied to this footage... Sometimes some pulldown software can cleanly remove interlacing from video situationally; but usually the only thing to be done is try to "smush" the frames together to hide the combing effect, which softens the image and still leaves the distracting ghosting and stuttering.  The above isn't an exact frame match - because again, the footage doesn't repeat across both films - but in this close-up, you can clearly see the sharpness and clean lines that have been smeared over in this new transfer.  Again, I suspect this isn't so much Eureka's fault, and might even be a perfectly accurate representation of the finished film after Lanzmann and co. presented it to the world.  But it's a shame.
Audio-wise, the news is simpler and happier.  All four films present the original mono in uncompressed LPCM 2.0, and provide optional English subtitles.  English is spoken in two of the four films, but even then, it's clearly not a first language, so viewers may welcome them in all cases.  Otherwise, there are no special features or anything.  An interview or two might've been nice, to talk about the decision to go back to these shelved interviews so many years later and the process involved, but Lanzmann is no longer with us, and these aren't exactly the kind of films you expect a lot of gimmicky bells and whistles with.  We do get a substantial, 48-page booklet, with insightful notes by Stuart Liebman, as well as reproduced statements from the director, producer and broadcaster.  And it comes in a nice slipcover.
Anyway, the issues with the picture quality are annoying, but they shouldn't be deal breaking.  Unfortunately, these are probably generally considered to be "TV movies," so nobody's likely to go back to the original negatives and give them another 4k scan.  Even if these do wind up coming out on blu in another part of the world, I'll be surprised if they get them looking any better.  And these are truly great and important films that more than earn their place in the Masters of Cinema series.  Honestly, it's a bit demented to divert the important subject matter on hand into questions of video quality and presentation at all.  Now we finally do have Lanzmann's final words on the Holocaust, and they should be heard no matter what.

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