The Last Letter: ‘this whole world will disappear for ever under the earth’

The Last Letter: ‘this whole world will disappear for ever under the earth’

The Last Letter is a film made by Frederick Wiseman in 2002. It was his first non-fiction film after four decades of making celebrated documentaries examining American institutions, and is a record of a sixty-minute performance by French actress Catherine Samie which Wiseman had previously directed at the Comédie-Française in Paris. It is one of the most compelling representations on film of the experience of the Holocaust that I have ever seen.

Stripped to bare essentials, the film presents a bravura monologue taken from from Vasily Grossman’s novel Life And Fate. Featuring only the performer on a bare stage, there are no props, and there is no score. The monologue represents the last letter to her son from a Russian-Jewish doctor who has been forcibly removed by the Nazis from her home to a Ukrainian ghetto. Continue reading “The Last Letter: ‘this whole world will disappear for ever under the earth’”

Fred Wiseman in the National Gallery

Fred Wiseman in the National Gallery

The other day I caught up with Frederick Wiseman’s epic documentary about the National Gallery, shown recently on BBC 4.  In characteristic fly-on-the-wall style, Wiseman spent much of 2012 prowling the corridors, boardrooms and backrooms of the National Gallery, having been given exclusive access to film anything that took his fancy. Continue reading “Fred Wiseman in the National Gallery”