Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955): France

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed in 3 parts online at YouTube.

Alain Resnais’ Night and Fogis a deeply poetic yet visually disturbing film, accompanied by an unsettling, repetitive musical score by Hanns Eisler.

Resnais uses “muted colors…of tracking shots and black and white archival footage,”*  in an effort to take us from present to past, to transport us from our vivid reality (in color) of the present, into the distant unreality (of black and white) to the past.  From a long shot of the abandoned Auschwitz camp in color, we see rows of barbed wire fencing cross-cut to black and white footage of German soldiers marching in rows.

The camps are built in a carefully calculated, methodical fashion, with the watchtowers designed in “Alpine style, Garage style, Japanese style, and no style.”  The kinetic beat of Eisler’s music is in sync with the disturbing montage of photos we are subjected to, such as the swarms of Nazi followers, then Himmler, then Hitler, more followers, rhetoric from a speech, Nazi children marching to the beat – the visuals become maddening.

The voice of Night and Fog is demonstrative and does not rely on our emotions to convince us of wrong doing, but rather reasons with the intellect, showing us proof through stills and actual footage of the heinous crimes – piles of human hair, piles of headless bodies, and artwork on human skin paper.

The story of the prisoners are told in a 3-part structure, first with the rounding up to the camps in cattle cars with “no night and no day,” which appears as though there is no beginning or ending to the madness – we are in a time warp.  Next is the degradation and humiliation, as the prisoners are starved, shaven, and striped down to nothing, naked and deprived.  The final act of brutality is in the cruel death and mass interment, as we see the showerhead gas chambers, and finally the heartless bulldozer pushing the bodies into the ground.

The “night and fog” of memory is symbolic to an impasse of the mind, which the voice of the film calls on us to remember, lest these actions are re-visited upon mankind again, since “there are those who refused to believe, or believed only for brief moments.”

*S. Flitterman-Lewis, Documenting the Documentary, pg. 204

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