Night and Fog (1955)

“Grass flourishes on the inspection ground around the blocks. An abandoned village, still heavy with peril. The crematoria are no longer used. The Nazi’s cunning is but child’s play today. Nine million dead haunt this countryside.”

‘Night and Fog’, directed by Alain Resnais in 1955, is a short documentary film about the Holocaust. Made only ten years after the end of the Second World War and written by Jean Cayrol, a concentration camp survivor, it unflinchingly presents images of Auschwitz and Majdanek framed with colour footage of the camps as they look in the 1950s. It doesn’t tell a linear story of the Final Solution and leaves telling gaps in what it presents to the audience, but instead acts as a meditation on memory, guilt and the divvying up of blame for the actions of the Nazis. The colour footage, green and lush, contrasts cuttingly with the horrors of the black-and-white still photography in the same way that the gaps in the narration (at one stage the narrator declines to describe what occurs in the prisons of the camp) creates an enormous space for our imaginations to fill. The thirty minute documentary builds in ‘tension’ as the horrors are progressively revealed, the editing juxtaposes imagery and matches the narration in creating a matter-of-fact tone to the film. It’s straightforward and understated but all the more powerful and poignant for this, a key part of this film is in the way it presents the acts committed as an unbelievable and unprecedented form of administration. It’s not easy to watch (obviously) but it’s important to watch, it provides both an essential snapshot of how the Holocaust was viewed in the 1950s, but is also a foundation text for all films depicting the attempted genocide.

Would I recommend it? Yes, as with ‘Come and See’ it’s difficult to watch and to comprehend, but it should be on the schools’ curriculum. Tempting to suggest watching this as a coda to ‘Shoah’, an epic documentary on the same subject, but one that presents a spread of stories.

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