The Specialist, directed by Eyal Sivan, is based entirely on original footage taken by blacklisted filmmaker Leo Hurwitz during the Eichmann trial in 1961. There's a beautiful clarity to the black and white images, and an eerie combination of formality and candor in the courtroom. Eichmann sits in a bulletproof glass chamber, participating in the proceedings by translation through headphones.
In one scene, we see Eichmann in profile while the opposite wall is covered with projected images of Auschwitz. The images are distorted and abstract from our vantage point; Eichmann watches impassively. Often Eichmann's face is twisted into something between a grimace and a smile, his flat lips dark and nearly pretty. On occasion, voices of observers in the courtroom swell to an agitated drone. It's a mild outburst. The judge warns the public, "I forbid you to demonstrate your feelings."
The whole film seems to maintain a balance of suppressed emotion; it's appallingly nightmarish material delivered calmly. When Eichmann is asked about his role in increasing the capacity of trains from 700 to 1000 passengers at a time--from a reasonable level to a deadly crowding--he explains that the new numbers were based on passengers traveling without luggage present. His version is statistical, practical and efficient. A witness testifies against Eichmann by describing his own job of pulling dead bodies from the trains. The tangled bodies, he says, were so hot they were steaming.
The film assumes the audience is at least partially informed. There's no explanatory preamble and no postscript--nothing to say that Eichmann was captured in Argentina and taken against his will to Israel, or that he was given the death sentence afterward. But information in the film builds gradually. There's more than enough to reveal Eichmann's instrumental role, beginning with the seemingly benign function of scheduling trains.
One of the hardest aspects of working with the Holocaust is making the information new again. It's necessary to get beyond desensitized and superficial levels of understanding to make the monstrosity of events resonate emotionally. The beauty of this particular film is that it works in a direct and quiet way, with images that are starkly beautiful, to reveal both the horror and the humanity in a series of decisions that led to what philosopher Hannah Arendt describes as the "administrative massacres organized by state apparatus."
Hannah Arendt covered the trials for the New Yorker at the time, and later wrote a book titled Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil. This film offers the visual counterpart to Arendt's book. As with Arendt's work, the film illuminates the underlying truth that evil isn't necessarily a distant and difficult element wholly divorced from the mundane. At times, it's merely the horrific result of idealism, leadership and successful compliance with bureaucratic orders.