Videovista have my review of Alain Resnais’ sublime holocaust documentary Nuit et Brouillard.
Reminiscent in both its imagery and intent to Billy Wilder’s post-War propaganda film Death Mills (1945), Night and Fog is only 32-minutes long but each and every one of those 32 minutes packs a hefty punch. Not content with directly addressing the somewhat thorny issue of France’s involvement in the deportation of Jews, Resnais attempts to universalise the cultural significance of the Holocaust in a number of ways. Firstly, (like many films) he suggests that Jewish people do not in any sense own the Holocaust and that the stain of the atrocity marks each and every one of us. Secondly, (somewhat more controversially) he suggests that many of the people inside the camps were far from innocent victims:
Between this and his continued insistence upon ‘denunciations’ and ‘thievery’, Resnais suggests that concentration camp inmates were far from blameless in the construction of some of the worst living conditions imaginable to man. While the film in no way lets the Nazis off the hook, it does suggest that the capacity for inhuman violence is present in all of us and that all the Nazis really did was create an environment in which man’s inhumanity to man could express itself fully. So detailed is Resnais’ accounting of social dynamics that one could almost watch Night And Fog as a sort of time and motion study. Given the film’s almost academic tone, the horrific imagery serves as a means of grounding the film and of reminding us what it is that we are discussing.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, this review touches on many of the same issues as my recent review of Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s disappointing Sarah’s Key (2010), which is out this weekend.