The holocaust was real, baneful and merciless — and that’s exactly how this film shows it

 

Commissioned to mark the tenth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, Night and Fog (1955) captures the barbarity of the holocaust. Helmed by modernist Alain Resnais, the film is contained to around the half an hour mark and studies the mechanical brutality the Nazis employed to carry out this grand atrocity. The film ran into trouble in 1955, it took five years before it saw release in Britain. Now however it is seen as one of the defining documentaries on the subject, possibly outclassed only by Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985).

Beginning with the rise of the Third Reich in 1933, the film observes the holocaust as though it were an infection spreading across occupied Europe. It takes us all the way through to 1945, its visual style stark, depicting the holocaust with harsh realism. We watch as ally trucks plough through mounds of starved bodies, the horror of this catastrophe is laid bare to us before our eyes by Resnais. Personally I find this fitting. To attempt to experiment or woo this subject with fanciful visual techniques would only distance the subject from the forefront of the viewer’s mind. What Resnais does, places the reality of the holocaust right before our eyes, the disgracefulness is undeniable.

The film’s narration is written by editor and poet , a survivor of the camps. The fluidity and poignancy of the words allow for an intelligent yet poetic insight into the events that occurred, Michel Bouquet delivers them with a suitable tone of disgust. Cayrol’s words and Bouquet’s delivery moved me. The poetic nature of this aspect of the film is mournful, almost an epitaph, written on the emptiness left by those who were taken from us through this monstrous act.

The haunting score provided by composer Hans Eisler adds yet another layer of brilliance to the film. The score shies away from grandeur, its more simple approach matches Resnais’ visual style, creating a respectable touching work.

This film for me is not only one of the best documentary films I have seen to date, but also what I would consider an almost perfect blueprint for a short documentary. The film takes us through a detailed account of the event and sticks faithfully to its subject matter, not straying to gratuitous detail or material. It is however incredibly difficult to watch, but this is no surprise, and is surely fitting considering the topic. Resnais has crafted what is for me a stunning yet brutal work of art. A cinematic memorial to all those lost in an utterly evil endeavour to destroy millions of innocent, vibrant people.