Night and Fog Review

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A devastating brief analysis of the Holocaust that seeks to identify exactly who perished in the concentration camps and who was responsible for the execution of such heinous crimes.


François Truffaut considered this 33-minute documentary to be the greatest film ever made. Yet, neither director Alain Resnais nor writer Jean Cayrol was particularly keen to work on it. Inspired by a 1954 exhibition at the Institut Pédagogique National, producer Anatole Dauman asked Resnais to direct a study of the Holocaust. But Resnais was reluctant to express opinions on an event he had not witnessed at first hand and agreed only if Cayrol scripted the commentary. However, the novelist, who had survived Mauthausen and recorded his feelings in the 1946 volume Poèmes de la Nuit et du Brouillard, had no desire to revisit painful memories and was only persuaded to accept the commission by Chris Marker, who had collaborated with Resnais on his anti-colonial study of ethnic art, Les Statues Meurent Aussi. The juxtaposition of colour images of the deserted environs of Auschwitz and Maïdenek with monochrome stills and newsreel footage gives the film a chilling immediacy, while also suggesting Resnais's perennial themes of memory and the difficulty of recollection. Abetted by Cayrol's commentary (voiced with a disconcerting lack of emotion by Michel Bouquet) and Hanns Eisler's sombre score, Resnais's prowling camera forces the viewer to look at what now seem unremarkable places and contemplate how easily they could become sites of mass extermination. The contrast between these stark realities and the stylised recreations of Hollywood-ised versions could not be more marked. Yet some critics were less than impressed by Resnais's decision to impose an artistic aesthetic on such harrowing material. Others lamented the failure to count the 300,000 murdered gays and lesbians among the other ethnic, religious and political groupings who perished alongside the Jews, while others still dismissed the film's conclusion that such atrocities have always happened and will continue to do so unless we exercises constant vigilance as a feeble lesson to draw from such unprecedented barbarism. But while Night and Fog all too evidently reflected the failings of imperfect humanity, it remains a powerful and profoundly moving memoir to the dead. Moreover, it encouraged others to explore the Shoah in greater depth.

Powerful stuff.

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