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Saturday 20 September 2014

We are all Tony Blair now... The television review

Published 08/09/2014 | 02:30

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Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Look... it was Tony Blair that started it
Look... it was Tony Blair that started it

The Saturday Game (RTE2). Close To Evil (RTE1). I think it was Tony Blair who started it, or who popularised it, and now it seems that the Irish - and Irish men in particular - are doing it all the time.

But look...

You see, I've just done it there. Blair was always answering questions in this way, giving the interviewer a few boring lines about stuff that didn't really interest him - such as the question that had been asked - and then getting to the important part, the line that Blair himself wanted to get across.

But look...

Usually with Blair it was a diversionary tactic, a technique of misdirection whereby the audience was invited to look away from the subject that the interviewer had in mind, and to look at something else, something that Blair wanted them to look at, using the literal instruction, "look".

It was extraordinarily effective, and it still is, because not only does it have the effect of changing the subject, or at least moving it in a different direction, it seems to suggest that the interviewee is actually being more candid than he needs to be.

"Look", he declares, interrupting the tedious flow of what has gone before, as if that is all bureaucratic waffle, and now he is going to level with us, he is going to give us the lowdown.

Look... I have no idea how this eventually became the natural conversational style of the Irish, in sport and in politics and in any other area in which men are placed under questioning. I just know that I am hearing it all the time, and that it needs to be formally placed on record, which I am doing now.

But look... you don't need to listen to me, you can listen to any GAA player being interviewed after a match, or indeed before a match or between matches, and it's there.

This is how deeply the technique has penetrated into the Irish soul.

But look... the Kerry player Aidan O'Mahony, interviewed on The Saturday Game after the defeat of Mayo, seemed to have less of it than most of his compatriots. In a short interview, there were just six "looks", which is probably below average, with the adrenaline still running.

But look... there was nothing on TV last week in the same universe as Close To Evil, Gerry Gregg's film about Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental, who was five years old when he and his family were taken from the then Czechoslovakia to Bergen-Belsen, and who has lived in Ireland since the 1960s.

At the centre of this staggering documentary was Tomi's journey towards a possible meeting with Hilde Lisiewicz, an SS guard who lives in Hamburg, a woman who is now 90 years old and who was one of his captors in Belsen - that meeting never happens, though there is a cathartic meeting with the grand-daughter of Hanns Ludin, who was Hitler's main man in Bratislava.

Every scene had some level of profundity, something touching on good and evil, though perhaps the most haunting aspect of the film was the very existence of Tomi, and of this terrible woman living in Hamburg who still doesn't think that she did much wrong, or who has somehow trained herself to think that way.

Time, I believe, was the unseen character in Close To Evil, and probably the most disturbing one. All the time you were looking at Tomi, looking at this SS woman, and thinking that this is not something made in the 1970s, it is not taken from The World At War, these people are still walking around today, still remembering or misremembering these events which happened to them in the 1940s - which, by some measurements, seems like a long time ago, but which seems like just the other day when Tomi Reichenstal is talking about it.

Anyone who was born after, say, 1960, would have grown up thinking that the Third Reich belonged to a world that no longer existed in any meaningful sense. And yet the more that time passes, in some strange way we get an entirely different perspective, and we start to realise that that world in which the Holocaust took place did not cease to exist at all, no more than Tomi Reichenstal or Hilde Lisiewicz have ceased to exist.

If anything, it feels that we're getting closer to it.

Sunday Independent

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