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Nuit et brouillard (1955)

Night and Fog

Directed by:

Alain Resnais

Rating: 10/10

Running Time: 30 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

The Nazi Holocaust poses an immense challenge for filmmakers. It was one of the twentieth century's most abhorrent crimes and deepest traumas, so vast in its scale and rigorous in its execution that it both demanded and defied basic articulation. Its events were too horrific to imagine, too insistently real to embellish or aestheticise, and too important to forget. Yet by acknowledging and embracing all these difficulties, Alain Resnais' 'Night and Fog' has endured both as an extraordinary piece of humanist documentary filmmaking, and an open-eyed anatomisation of the mechanics of 'productive extermination'.

Nacht und Nebel (literally 'night and fog') is a German idiom for the darkness and secrecy in which illicit or surreptitious activities are conducted. Hitler decreed that those who 'endangered Germany's security' should be made to vanish 'night and fog', and the phrase was sometimes used to decorate the blue-striped uniforms of 'death factory' inmates. Yet Resnais casts light on the shadowy ideology of the holocaust by focussing on its most concrete foundations – the architecture of the concentration camps. Newly shot colour sequences showing the abandoned Auschwitz complex, building by building, are intercut with archival images – some moving, others still, some filmed by the Nazis, others by the Allied liberators – which document with graphic precision the grim functionality of each and every feature, all designed to contribute to a calculated process of forced labour and mass murder. Many of these images, needless to say, are indescribably harrowing, and yet they are presented in a chillingly logical order which reflects the diabolical organisation and coordination which was required to create so much suffering and death with such efficiency.

The film's text, voiced with haunting detachment by Michel Bouquet, was written by Jean Cayrol, a French poet, novelist, essayist and, most importantly, camp survivor, and provides a detailed historical, and even philosophical, perspective. The script repeatedly insists on the inadequacy of either images or words to “capture the true dimension” of what it was to experience the camps – but the combination of what is seen and heard is certainly more than enough not merely to inform, but to horrify and disgust.

Made just ten years after the end of the Second World War, and now released on DVD for the first time in the UK to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of the Allies' liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, 'Night and Fog' is a brisk, remarkably economic tour through a human slaughterhouse, a monstrous policy, and the human capacity both to do, and to ignore, evil. It records events which, however repellent, must be recognised and remembered if they are not to be repeated (as they already have been in places like Cambodia, Chile, Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina). More than just a document of history, it is a plea for vigilance. Watch it.

It's Got: Haunting images that scar the memory; a highly economic commentary that combines factual information, philosophical reflection, and a humane poetry.

It Needs: To be seen.

DVD Extras Original aspect ratio 1.33:1; French language with English subtitles. There are no extras (hence the low rating) - but extras would only serve as a distraction from this films stark impact. DVD Extras Rating: 1/10

Alternatives:

Life is Beautiful, Schindlers List, Shoah

Summary

A harrowingly economic document of the Holocaust, and a plea for vigilance. Watch it.