Directed By: Alain Resnais
Starring: Michel Bouquet, Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler
Trivia: One of the first documentaries to openly deal with the Holocaust
The opening scenes of Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog, a documentary that runs a mere 30 minutes, are deceptively tranquil, showing what appears to be a beautiful landscape, stretching as far as the eye can see. But as the camera slowly descends, a barbed wire fence comes into view, signifying there’s more to this place than its pretty scenery. In fact, we are at Auschwitz, one of many concentration camps used by the Nazis to carry out their “final solution”, during which millions of Jews were rounded up and killed. Resnais shot this footage in 1955, ten years after World War II had ended. His camera explores the area, showing the railroad tracks that carried families to their doom, and the buildings, now abandoned, where many spent their final moments. Everything is so calm, so peaceful; yet the reality of what transpired here still hangs over the entire area. It’s a poignant opening to what will be a very poignant film, filled with images that will burn themselves into your memory.
Interspersed amid the archival footage of the German war machine, beginning with Adolf Hitler addressing his vast army and ending at Nuremberg, where former Nazis were put on trial for horrific crimes against humanity, Resnais gives us some of the most shocking images ever presented. Photographs of prisoners crowded into bunks (as many as three or four to a bed) are just the beginning; as Night and Fog progresses, we’re shown, among other things, a pile of bodies sprawled across the floor of a railroad car (those who didn’t survive the tortuous journey), then an even larger pile inside a gas chamber. There are close-ups of charred remains, some burned outside, others in the large ovens built expressly for that purpose. For me, the most disturbing picture showed a collection of severed heads lying in a basket, the bodies still lined up on the ground next to it. This is real-life horror the likes of which I’ve never seen before.
Francois Truffaut once called Night and Fog the greatest motion picture ever made. “Not only because of the importance of the subject does this movie deserve to come first”, Truffaut wrote, “But also because of Resnais’ style and the tone he managed to give to the film”, adding, in conclusion, that it “makes every other film look trivial”. After one viewing of Night and Fog, I’m sure you’ll agree with him.