Night and Fog


31m 1955
Night and Fog

Brief Synopsis

Documentary cameras contrast the horrors of Auschwitz with the peaceful countryside surrounding it.

Film Details

Also Known As
Natt och dimma, Nuit et Brouillard
Genre
Documentary
Short
War
Political
Foreign
Release Date
1955
Location
Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Technical Specs

Duration
31m

Synopsis

Documentary cameras contrast the horrors of Auschwitz with the peaceful countryside surrounding it.

Film Details

Also Known As
Natt och dimma, Nuit et Brouillard
Genre
Documentary
Short
War
Political
Foreign
Release Date
1955
Location
Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

Technical Specs

Duration
31m

Articles

Night and Fog


When the great French director Alain Resnais accepted producer Anatole Dauman's invitation to make a documentary about the Holocaust, he turned to a close friend, the noted poet and publisher Jean Cayrol, to write the narration that would accompany the film's profoundly troubling images. Resnais was convinced that only a concentration-camp survivor like Cayrol had the moral authority to comment on the horrors that took place behind camp walls. After joining the French Resistance and fighting the Nazi occupation for two years, Cayrol had been arrested and sent to the Mauthausen-Gusen death camp in 1943. The appalling conditions there didn't prevent him from writing, and he published a collection titled Poems of Night and Fog soon after he was liberated in 1945. This was the basis of his poetic text for Resnais's film Night and Fog, read on the soundtrack by actor Michel Bouquet.

Resnais's previous documentaries had dealt mainly with art and culture, and he hadn't yet directed the brilliant pictures - Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961) - that launched his long feature-filmmaking career. Yet by the middle 1950s he was fascinated with subjects he would explore for decades to come, including the unreliability of memory, the mutability of time and the enigmatic nature of historical understanding. All of these are central to Night and Fog, still rightly regarded as one of cinema's most penetrating and insightful studies of Nazi genocide. In the film, Resnais suggests the historical complexity as well as the physical and emotional monstrousness of the Holocaust by cutting continually between pairs - past and present, black-and-white and color, still and moving images, words tinged with irony and words spoken in dead earnest - that subtly suggests messages in some instances, straightforwardly spells them out in others. In his 1979 book Alain Resnais, critic James Monaco succinctly summarized the film's methodology describing Resnais's belief that "standard documentary techniques would...have the effect of humanizing the incomprehensible terror, of making it comprehensible, and thereby diminishing it." Resnais and Cayrol wanted to present the camps "not as a fact of dead history, but as evidence of a present reality" that could take on fresh life if society doesn't guard against it.

Although that is certainly true, the filmmakers do make the Holocaust human and comprehensible when they emphasize blunt historical facts. "A concentration camp is built like a grand hotel," the voiceover says near the beginning. "You need contractors, estimates, competitive offers. And no doubt friends in high places....The leisurely architects plan the gates that no one will enter more than once." And while construction proceeds, future prisoners all over Europe go on with their everyday lives until "those caught in the act, wrongly arrested, or simply unlucky" are suddenly rounded up, packed into cattle cars and locked up to await their doom. As for life within the camps, some people dwell in relatively ordinary circumstances: "The kapo has his own room where he can...receive his favorites in the evening," and the commandant's wife lives in a nearby villa, where she "is fond of her children and entertains as in any other garrison town," although she might be "a trifle more bored" because the war is stretching on so long. Not until 1963, when political philosopher Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, did the banal nature of some overwhelming crimes become a frequent subject of analysis. But this way of looking at the matter was present years earlier in Night and Fog.

Unlike some Holocaust documentaries produced in later years, such as Claude Lanzmann's monumental Shoah (1985) and Marcel Ophüls's exhaustive Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, the more concise but equally intense Night and Fog makes unsparing use of atrocity footage, alternating color shots of concentration-camp sites in the mid-1950s with black-and-white images of freakishly starved bodies, decapitated heads and torsos, corpses heaved into mass graves and more. This material is both difficult and essential to watch. Cayrol himself could bear to see the film only once, writing that its "unbearable images...drove [him] mad."

And he wasn't the only person who found the movie daunting. When a screening was scheduled for the Cannes festival in 1956, Germany's ambassador pressured the French government to have it cancelled on the grounds that its depiction of horrendous pain and suffering did not suit "the festive spirit" of the event. The screening was reinstated when hundreds of camp survivors threatened to protest by marching through Cannes in their prison garb. It's reassuring to know that this crucial historical film is readily available today.

Director: Alain Resnais
Producers: Anatole Dauman, Samy Halfon, Philippe Lifchitz
Screenplay: Jean Cayrol
Cinematographers: Ghislain Cloquet, Sacha Vierny
Film Editing: Alain Resnais
Music: Hanns Eisler
With: Michel Bouquet (narrator)
Color/BW-32m.

by David Sterritt
Night And Fog

Night and Fog

When the great French director Alain Resnais accepted producer Anatole Dauman's invitation to make a documentary about the Holocaust, he turned to a close friend, the noted poet and publisher Jean Cayrol, to write the narration that would accompany the film's profoundly troubling images. Resnais was convinced that only a concentration-camp survivor like Cayrol had the moral authority to comment on the horrors that took place behind camp walls. After joining the French Resistance and fighting the Nazi occupation for two years, Cayrol had been arrested and sent to the Mauthausen-Gusen death camp in 1943. The appalling conditions there didn't prevent him from writing, and he published a collection titled Poems of Night and Fog soon after he was liberated in 1945. This was the basis of his poetic text for Resnais's film Night and Fog, read on the soundtrack by actor Michel Bouquet. Resnais's previous documentaries had dealt mainly with art and culture, and he hadn't yet directed the brilliant pictures - Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961) - that launched his long feature-filmmaking career. Yet by the middle 1950s he was fascinated with subjects he would explore for decades to come, including the unreliability of memory, the mutability of time and the enigmatic nature of historical understanding. All of these are central to Night and Fog, still rightly regarded as one of cinema's most penetrating and insightful studies of Nazi genocide.

Two Landmark Films by Alain Resnais


Alain Resnais has an uneasy reputation, on one hand lauded as a director of several major films but on the other sometimes slighted as somebody who doesn't quite snap into focus as a personality. Of the key French New Wave directors, his career hasn't sparked the same continued interest as, say, Truffaut and Godard or even the recent revivals of Rivette and Rohmer. If Resnais at times seems close to becoming just a question on a final exam (match his name to "memory" if multiple choice) that's unfortunate as proven by the recent DVD release of two early films that made his reputation, Night and Fog (1955) and Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). Both do in fact deal with memory on some level though not as some ethereal artistic idea but as something that directly affects individual and political lives. It's altogether appropriate that one of Resnais' very first films was a documentary on libraries, those repositories of our collective memory.

This is apparent in Resnais' 1955 Night and Fog, which wasn't the first Holocaust documentary but in many ways was the most important until Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1985), which is also due soon on DVD. Resnais combined color film of the inactive concentration camps with black-and-white archival footage in ways that are familiar now but quite surprising at the time. His own fascination with memory and its effects parallels one of the key issues in Holocaust studies: How much can, or even should, be represented? This is addressed explicitly in Night and Fog even though the film takes something of an overview approach, from deportation to daily life in the camps to an ambiguous liberation. The atrocities are fully present, in visual ways that written descriptions can never quite match. With the sombre delivery of Jean Cayrol's almost poetic narration and Hans Eisler's nervous music, Night and Fog is both a stark reminder and an open warning. There's little outrage in the film but more a heartbroken sense of loss.

Criterion's DVD of Night and Fog features their usual first-rate transfer of the film. Even though it runs only 31 minutes, Criterion apparently decided that any additions would be either a distraction or inappropriate and released just the solitary film (though at a lower price of $14.95). The extras are similarly sparse: There's a brief radio interview with Resnais and a set of short but worthwhile biographies of all the collaborators (which included future director Chris Marker and cinematographer Sacha Vierny). Night and Fog certainly would have benefitted from a historian's commentary or even an essay but neither are included. One worthwhile option, though, is to view the film with a music-only track which makes it easier to note Resnais' editing strategies, contrasts of screen direction, and uses of massed people and objects.

By contrast, Hiroshima Mon Amour is an intimate film, featuring basically only two characters though their interactions in public spaces and various flashbacks make this anything but a theatrical dialogue. Resnais worked from a script by Marguerite Duras, one of the key writers in the Nouveau Roman movement who later became an acclaimed director (India Song). Again contributing is cinematographer Vierney, composer Georges Delerue (who did orchestrations for Night and Fog) and others.

Hiroshima Mon Amour focuses on a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva in her first credited role) who goes to Hiroshima to play a nurse in a film "about peace" and has an affair with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada, a veteran of Naruse and Ichikawa films and later one of only two major characters in Woman in the Dunes). The temporary couple talk, plan and discard various possibilities about their future while digging out revelations from their past. This sort of thing can be parodied as "French art film" but it's important to remember that the goal isn't naturalism and it isn't the flowing dialogue that's often presumed to be observable in real life but actually isn't (Do you know anybody who talks like a Mamet or O'Neill character?). Certainly "poetry" would be a misleading word--this isn't Shakespeare either--but it does hint at the kind of heightened awareness that Resnais and Duras are attempting. This approach drives Riva and Okada to subtly understated performances that wiggle into the characters and their formation. Instead of fully formed characters presented to us, in Hiroshima Mon Amour we watch them struggle to form themselves, to define new relations without a map. But the film opens into a wider political world with the grimly unforgettable documentary footage of the Hiroshima bombing victims peppered through much of the first half-hour. The interplay of individual to society, random to intentional, language to image, and health to sickness makes this a complex sequence, the more so due to some of the footage being obvious but unmarked re-creations (undoubtedly another deliberate tactic at exploring another type of memory created by documentaries).

Criterion's DVD features a sharp transfer of the film that captures the various textures and subtle lighting. Putting the film into context is an audio commentary by historian Peter Cowie, video interviews with Resnais and Emmanuelle Riva, and a version of the screenplay annotated by Duras herself. A thick booklet includes an essay by critic Kent Jones, brief Duras prose sketches, and a reprint of a 1959 roundtable discussion by the Cahiers du Cinema staff that's as insightful as it is peculiar.

For more information about Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Night and Fog, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Hiroshima, Mon Amour, go to TCM Shopping. To order Night and Fog, go to TCM Shopping.

by Lang Thompson

Two Landmark Films by Alain Resnais

Alain Resnais has an uneasy reputation, on one hand lauded as a director of several major films but on the other sometimes slighted as somebody who doesn't quite snap into focus as a personality. Of the key French New Wave directors, his career hasn't sparked the same continued interest as, say, Truffaut and Godard or even the recent revivals of Rivette and Rohmer. If Resnais at times seems close to becoming just a question on a final exam (match his name to "memory" if multiple choice) that's unfortunate as proven by the recent DVD release of two early films that made his reputation, Night and Fog (1955) and Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). Both do in fact deal with memory on some level though not as some ethereal artistic idea but as something that directly affects individual and political lives. It's altogether appropriate that one of Resnais' very first films was a documentary on libraries, those repositories of our collective memory. This is apparent in Resnais' 1955 Night and Fog, which wasn't the first Holocaust documentary but in many ways was the most important until Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1985), which is also due soon on DVD. Resnais combined color film of the inactive concentration camps with black-and-white archival footage in ways that are familiar now but quite surprising at the time. His own fascination with memory and its effects parallels one of the key issues in Holocaust studies: How much can, or even should, be represented? This is addressed explicitly in Night and Fog even though the film takes something of an overview approach, from deportation to daily life in the camps to an ambiguous liberation. The atrocities are fully present, in visual ways that written descriptions can never quite match. With the sombre delivery of Jean Cayrol's almost poetic narration and Hans Eisler's nervous music, Night and Fog is both a stark reminder and an open warning. There's little outrage in the film but more a heartbroken sense of loss. Criterion's DVD of Night and Fog features their usual first-rate transfer of the film. Even though it runs only 31 minutes, Criterion apparently decided that any additions would be either a distraction or inappropriate and released just the solitary film (though at a lower price of $14.95). The extras are similarly sparse: There's a brief radio interview with Resnais and a set of short but worthwhile biographies of all the collaborators (which included future director Chris Marker and cinematographer Sacha Vierny). Night and Fog certainly would have benefitted from a historian's commentary or even an essay but neither are included. One worthwhile option, though, is to view the film with a music-only track which makes it easier to note Resnais' editing strategies, contrasts of screen direction, and uses of massed people and objects. By contrast, Hiroshima Mon Amour is an intimate film, featuring basically only two characters though their interactions in public spaces and various flashbacks make this anything but a theatrical dialogue. Resnais worked from a script by Marguerite Duras, one of the key writers in the Nouveau Roman movement who later became an acclaimed director (India Song). Again contributing is cinematographer Vierney, composer Georges Delerue (who did orchestrations for Night and Fog) and others. Hiroshima Mon Amour focuses on a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva in her first credited role) who goes to Hiroshima to play a nurse in a film "about peace" and has an affair with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada, a veteran of Naruse and Ichikawa films and later one of only two major characters in Woman in the Dunes). The temporary couple talk, plan and discard various possibilities about their future while digging out revelations from their past. This sort of thing can be parodied as "French art film" but it's important to remember that the goal isn't naturalism and it isn't the flowing dialogue that's often presumed to be observable in real life but actually isn't (Do you know anybody who talks like a Mamet or O'Neill character?). Certainly "poetry" would be a misleading word--this isn't Shakespeare either--but it does hint at the kind of heightened awareness that Resnais and Duras are attempting. This approach drives Riva and Okada to subtly understated performances that wiggle into the characters and their formation. Instead of fully formed characters presented to us, in Hiroshima Mon Amour we watch them struggle to form themselves, to define new relations without a map. But the film opens into a wider political world with the grimly unforgettable documentary footage of the Hiroshima bombing victims peppered through much of the first half-hour. The interplay of individual to society, random to intentional, language to image, and health to sickness makes this a complex sequence, the more so due to some of the footage being obvious but unmarked re-creations (undoubtedly another deliberate tactic at exploring another type of memory created by documentaries). Criterion's DVD features a sharp transfer of the film that captures the various textures and subtle lighting. Putting the film into context is an audio commentary by historian Peter Cowie, video interviews with Resnais and Emmanuelle Riva, and a version of the screenplay annotated by Duras herself. A thick booklet includes an essay by critic Kent Jones, brief Duras prose sketches, and a reprint of a 1959 roundtable discussion by the Cahiers du Cinema staff that's as insightful as it is peculiar. For more information about Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Night and Fog, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Hiroshima, Mon Amour, go to TCM Shopping. To order Night and Fog, go to TCM Shopping. by Lang Thompson

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Winner of the French Prix Jean Vigo in 1955.

Released in United States 1990

Released in United States December 15, 1956

Released in United States June 4, 1990

Released in United States May 8, 1956

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1955

Premiered at Cannes Film Festival May 8, 1956.

Shown at Pacific Film Archive (A Producer's Vision: Anatole Dauman) in Berkeley, California June 4, 1990.

Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival (Tribute to Anatole Dauman) April 30 - May 13, 1990.

Released in United States 1990 (Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival (Tribute to Anatole Dauman) April 30 - May 13, 1990.)

Released in United States May 8, 1956 (Premiered at Cannes Film Festival May 8, 1956.)

Released in United States June 4, 1990 (Shown at Pacific Film Archive (A Producer's Vision: Anatole Dauman) in Berkeley, California June 4, 1990.)

Released in United States December 15, 1956 (Shown in London (National Film Theatre) December 15, 1956.)

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1955