“Night And Fog” (1955)

Directed by Alain Resnais
Production Company: Argos Films
Language: French
Length: 31 Minutes
Features:

  • Excerpts of audio interviews with Alain Resnais from Le Cinéma des cinéastes (1980) and Les Étoiles du cinéma (1994)
  • Crew profiles written by film historian Peter Cowie
  • Optional music and effects track

“Night And Fog” (1955) is a film that, despite its remarkably short running time of 31 minutes, manages to pack a punch like no other Holocaust documentary or film.

What truly is remarkable about it, though, is that it does not focus on a particular part of the Holocaust, but serves as a general summation of the pain and suffering inflicted on the millions of Jews in Europe. It uses the Auschwitz and Majdanek camps as background pieces, but they merely provide examples and are not the main focal points of the film. Resnais made his film just ten years after the camps were liberated, meaning that the footage he captured (all in color, by the way) is even more painful to see.

Michel Bouquet, whose narration was written by survivor Jean Cayrol, adds even more mystique to the whole production. He gives such a peaceful, almost dead-pan, narration that it almost doesn’t match the horrific images we see. Adding to that feeling is Hanns Eisler’s sweeping score, which makes it seem as if Resnais forgot to tell the German that it was going to be a documentary.

Cayrol wrote the ‘text’ (as it is referred to) so that it puts forward more questions than it asks. Who allowed for this to happen? Was it really just the Nazis? Then, there is the scariest question of them all: Can it happen again?

As an older Criterion release, the package design is not quite as attractive as their current designs, but it works. No Holocaust film begs for a big, flashy cover and the simplistic, black and white motif works fantastically. The disc is backed with a pamphlet instead of a booklet, which houses two short essays about the film (one by Phillip Lopate and the other by Peter Cowie), as well as a short biography on Eisler by Russell Lack.

Criterion included just two bonus features – a short radio interview with Resnais and an isolated music track. Also, text profiles, written by Cowie, are included on the disc.

As a short film, Criterion was nice enough to substantially lower the retail price to $14.99 (I doubt anyone would pay $30…it’s good, but not that good). Still, it would be nice to have had a few more features, such as an appreciation by a modern director or one of Resnais’ contemporaries.

The Verdict: The film is horrifically straightforward and blunt, but it is so brilliantly made, that it is difficult not to recommend it.

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