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Restraint From the Master of Razzmatazz: 'Schindler's List' is a major ...


The most memorable films about the period, from Alain Resnais’ 30-minute “Night and Fog” to Claude Lanzmann's nine-hour-plus “Shoah,” share this reserve with such memoirs as Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz.” Only through the lens of restraint can those days be effectively seen, as Steven Spielberg, of all people, persuasively demonstrates with the quietly devastating “Schindler's List.”


Of all people, because rather than detachment and restraint it is the broad, toys-are-us strokes of obvious heroes and hissable villains that have characterized much of Spielberg's output, up to and including this year's “Jurassic Park.” But the director, with personal and emotional ties to the world of Eastern European Jewry, clearly hungered to do something different here.


A gambler, war profiteer and lover of alcohol, a convivial sensualist and womanizer who, in Keneally's phrase, considered sexual shame “a concept like existentialism, very worthy but hard to grasp,” Schindler the quintessential good German was not the ordinary stuff of heroes.


Schindler (Irish actor Liam Neeson) is glimpsed initially as a pair of disembodied hands, quietly laying out alternate coats, ties and cuff links, preparing for his own type of campaign.


Simply indifferent to who is a Jew and who is not, he decides to take over a formerly Jewish-owned enamelware factory and hires Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to run it with cheap Jewish labor while he himself does the important work of schmoozing and bribing the military men in charge of procurement for the German army.


Using real locations whenever possible, collaborating with Polish-born director of photography Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn, and making excellent use of black and white, itself a distancing element, Spielberg understands how important it is to show the casualness of the nightmare.






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