Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard) Review
Born in 1922 (and still active as a film director as he approaches his ninetieth birthday), Alain Resnais began making films as a child, with an 8mm camera his parents gave him for his birthday. After World War II, he worked as a film editor and began to make short documentaries, such as the Oscar-winning Van Gogh (1948), Gauguin (1950) and Guernica (1950).
Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard) was made in 1955, ten years after the end of the War, and addressed a subject that had been little explored up to then, that of the Nazi concentration camps. Resnais and his cameramen Ghislain Cloquet and Sacha Vierny filmed (in colour 16mm) the present-day sites of Auschwitz and Majdanek. Interspersed with this is black and white stock footage, stills and newsreels of the camps in operation. The film has a narration written by camp survivor Jean Cayrol (spoken in the film by Michel Bouquet), which describes the day to day workings of the Nazi Final Solution.
Some of what follows is hard to stomach, but it happened and that must never be denied. We see men, women and children herded into trains before passing through the camp gates, Auschwitz's having the notorious slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (Work Makes Freedom). Prisoners have their heads shaved and are tattooed They work as slaves, sleeping three to a bunk, half-starved, in the knowledge that the guards could shoot them at the slightest provocation. Even worse is the footage in the hospital and the surgery where prisoners are experimented on: burned with phosphorus, castrated, limbs amputated for no reason. In the present-time sequences, we visit the gas chambers where so many met their end, the walls still marked by the clawings of fingernails.
In the feature films he went on to make, from Hiroshima mon amour (1959) onwards, Resnais was preoccupied with time and memory, and to the extent we are fashioned by our past. You can see the roots of this in Night and Fog, as Resnais and his collaborators force us to remember something that should never be forgotten. Night and Fog is a truly harrowing experience - too much so for the BBFC in 1960 who cut the film for a X certificate, a controversial decision at the time. (All subsequent BBFC submissions have been uncut for a 15 certificate, and I would suggest parents of younger children take that age restriction seriously.) Night and Fog contains sequences and images that I'm certain will remain with me for the rest of my life. I first saw the film on its UK VHS release, although I had seen extracts from it elsewhere. I thought at the time – though this is certainly nothing to be proud of – that I had seen sufficient Holocaust footage to be immune to it. This was the film that showed me I was wrong.
Night and Fog is one of the few short films that could be feasibly released on its own.
The DVD transfer is in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, so anamorphic enhancement is unnecessary. Given the 16mm origins, you would expect the contemporary colour footage to be a little soft and certainly grainy, and indeed it is. I don't have other releases (such as Criterion's DVD reviewed here by Kevin Gilvear) to compare this with, but there is a pinkish tinge to the left hand side of the image, suggesting that the original from which this has been mastered has faded a little. The black and white footage varies in quality as you may expect.
The soundtrack is in mono, as it should be, with Bouquet's narration (in French) and Hanns Eisler's understated music score well balanced. English subtitles are fixed.
There are no extras.