A man stands in a court room, as tentative and beaky-nosed as Arthur Miller. He answers, with great care, a string of questions put to him by a melodramatic, bullying attorney general, whose attempts to get the crowd hissing and heaving in their seats result in the bad-tempered judge continually having to restore order to the court-room. At last the man can take no more. Like a modern-day Jesus, or Shakespeare's Cordelia, he can't say what the people around him want to hear. Forced to give a yes or no answer, he says gently: "I refuse to reveal my inner feelings." Then, with an attempt at a smile, "I feel as if I'm being grilled like a steak."
The man is Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official who organised the "Final Solution" and The Specialist, a documentary which uses never- seen-before footage of Eichmann's 1961 trial in Jerusalem, is just one of the films showing at this year's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. Blockbusters such as Three Kings and The Hurricane will be the main attractions, but The Specialist stands out from the crowd - the most unsettling documentary I think I've seen since Terry Zwigoff's Crumb or Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line. Like them, its drama defies logic. The film's 13 "scenes" unfold like one of those Russian dolls, only this time, when you prize open the doll, something bigger comes out.
As a film-maker, director Eyal Sivan's role is hardly conventional. Someone else (America's Leo Hurwitz) shot the images; someone else (the legal experts) ask the questions. Sivan's skill lies in the surreal way in which he has distilled the 350 hours of tape. Witnesses come and go in seconds, their heart-breaking stories shuffled like cards in a pack. But visually, they never go away. The witnesses black and white faces are reflected in the window of Eichmann's little office-cubicle - his image and theirs constantly and artily overlapping each other.
So what's the connection? For the first hour of The Specialist, Sivan keeps us guessing. Over and over again, the judge demands that the attorney general "stick to the object of the trial". Nothing seems to stick. And those unfamiliar with the case could even be forgiven for thinking Eichmann is the wrong man. Then, slowly, it all clicks.
Israeli-born Sivan (an avowed anti-Zionist who lives in exile in Paris) says that Eichmann's trial was a "political show" used by the Zionists to gain "moral credit". He says The Specialist is a "representation of what the trial should have been, using Eichmann's own defence as an indictment".
There's one extraordinary moment where, after all the haranguing and noise,one of the judges, Dr Servatius, addresses Eichmann in civilised tones. And in German (all the other judges use Hebrew).
Eichmann melts before our eyes. He allows words to be spoon-fed into his open mouth. "You had to abandon your conscience?" says Servatius. "Yes," says Eichmann eagerly, "one had to abandon it because one could not control or regulate it oneself". "One could call it a state of being split," he then adds, clearly luxuriating in the psychological language.
Like spokesmen for the age of anxiety, the two men now begin a desultory conversation, Eichmann's body straining towards Servatius so greedily that you half expect him to sprout Chagall wings and fly out of the cubicle, into the arms of his rescuer. …