Oct 21

“Denial”: Deliberate Silence Spotlights Bigotry

…We’re never going to do away with racism. All we can control is how we answer it. Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt (Los Angeles Times), focus of film Denial

What you can’t do is lie and expect not to be accountable for it. Lipstadt, Denial

Auschwitz was hell on earth, but the moment it’s gone is the moment someone starts to rebuild it somewhere else. Eric Kohn, Indiewire, reviewing Denial

In 1996 Deborah Lipstadt was sued for libel by British author David Irving after she’d written a book about the Holocaust. She won the case and later published her account, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (2005). Now Rachel Weisz plays her in the courtroom drama Denial with Timothy Spall her accuser.

How does the real Lipstadt feel about the film? As told to interviewer Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times“No movie is going to change the David Irvings of the world. What this can do is confront the people who think it’s OK to change facts as long as you call them ‘opinions.’”

More from the interview with Lipstadt:

Asked if she meant to connect those thoughts to the current election cycle she cut in quickly. “People say Trump.  But I don’t want to limit it to him. It’s not that I don’t want to be political; I’ll be political. But it’s that it’s so much broader than that. It’s the idea that, ‘well, there was a Holocaust but maybe no gas chambers,’ or ‘there were Muslims dancing in New Jersey on 9/11,’ or ‘vaccines cause autism’ even though it’s based on totally junk science.”

Adam Graham, Detroit News, sets up the film’s trial:

The suit is brought in British court, where the burden of proof is on the defense, meaning Lipstadt and her legal team…must prove the Holocaust happened. It is not as easy as simply putting survivors on the stand; it comes down to the complexities of the law and the intricacy of language. It’s more difficult than it sounds.

Adds Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:

Thus, because Lipstadt’s allegedly libelous comments were unambiguous and because she and her publisher don’t want to settle, she and her lawyers have to prove two things or lose the case: (1) that Irving’s Auschwitz writings were inaccurate; and (2) — this is the hard one — that he did it intentionally, for the purpose of pushing an anti-Semitic agenda.

And Peter Keough, Boston Globe:

Lipstadt’s legal team, headed by dour and deadly barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson at his dourest and deadliest), had determined that the best strategy for Lipstadt’s defense was to silence her, not to have her take the stand and confront her accuser and so give him the platform to present his version of reality.

Hence the denial of the title refers not so much to Irving’s, but to Lipstadt’s — her self-denial in the cause of furthering the case.

While Weisz and Wilkinson are widely admired for their portrayals, “…it’s Spall who waltzes away with the film,” states Graham.

His unrepentant, unapologetic Irving, repugnant though he may be, believes deeply in his own hate-filled views. He refuses to apologize, even when proven wrong, and Spall lends him an air of quiet sympathy.

His character bears similarities to a certain current political figure, making ‘Denial’ feel ripped from today’s headlines, and even tomorrow’s.

From Keough: “…Spall’s performance as Irving is a nuanced masterpiece of patriarchal monstrosity. He puts his character’s essential anti-Semitism and his methods of boorishness and intimidation on the docket and show them for what they are — the pernicious lies of a hateful ideologue.”

We already know the ending. So, how’s the process of getting there? Eric Kohn, Indiewire, offers one meaningful opinion:

This isn’t a debate, it’s a sledgehammer; it’s not inherently compelling drama, but it’s immensely satisfying catharsis to watch as it flattens Irving’s nonsense into nothingness. Likewise, it’s not great cinema (in fact, it’s as milquetoast and middle-brow as movies get, and its third act suffers by trying to gin up additional suspense), but ‘Denial’ does the modern world a great service by refusing to entertain the idea that there are two sides to every story, even if that means it refuses to entertain a portion of its audience in the process.

Watch the Denial trailer below: