Night and Fog

In the decade following the Holocaust, conversation on the subject was largely mute. Some people had problems finding a way to conceptualize the evil of Hitler’s Nazi regime, while others simply did not want to think about it. Within this context, French director Alain Resnais decided that the cinema might be a good place to begin the process of breaking through this sense of public amnesia. The result of his inclination was Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard) — one of the most important documentary films ever made.

As Fog only runs about 30 minutes, a comprehensive account of the Holocaust is not Resnais’ intention. Instead, with a mixture of black and white still photos and similarly colored archival footage, he briefly explains the forces behind the creation of the Nazi concentration camps and the many horrid aspects of camp life. Throughout the film, Michel Bouquet’s skillfully understated and often ironic narration accompanies images of packed cattle cars, gruesome medical experiments, and scratches on the gas chamber ceiling.

These old photos and bits of footage are juxtaposed with color shots of an abandoned and disintegrating Auschwitz, taken by Resnais in the mid 1950’s. During such segments, the Frenchman cleverly captures the public reluctance to engage the Holocaust with decidedly timid camerawork; as it pans left and right Resnais’ lens often changes speed generating a feeling of shaky unease.

Today, it seems that this feeling has been, for the most part, extinguished from the public mind; there are now scores of films available on the Holocaust. And while the removal of this taboo does make the experience of viewing Fog slightly less meaningful, it shouldn’t prevent people from setting aside half an hour and watching the film. Those who do will be treated to excellent directing on the part of Renais, and exposed to the Nazis’ atrocities with a poignant force that is matched by few, if any, other visual interpretations of the event.

Nathan Walker


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