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The Criterion Collection presents
Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard) (1955)

"Nine million dead haunt this countryside. Who among us keeps watch from this strange watchtower to warn of the arrival of our new executioners? Are their faces really different from our own? ... With our sincere gaze we survey these ruins, as if the old monster lay crushed forever beneath the rubble. We pretend to take up hope again as the image recedes into the past, as it were cured once and for all of the scourge of the camps. We pretend it all happened only once, at a given time and place. We turn a blind eye to what surrounds us, and a deaf ear to humanity's never-ending cry."
- Narrator (Michel Bouquet)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: July 13, 2003

Stars: Michel Bouquet
Director: Alain Resnais

Manufacturer: Criterion Post
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 00h:31m:54s
Release Date: June 24, 2003
UPC: 037429180822
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A ABC+ C-

DVD Review

The Holocaust by its very nature makes for some very powerful filmmaking. But dramatized accounts such as Schindler's List or The Pianist often distance the viewer by putting it into a fictional framework, making it easier for him or her to move on once the film stops spooling. For this reason, such accounts can seldom rival the impact of the seminal documentary on the concentration camps, Alain Resnais' Night and Fog.

The last of Resnais' short film documentaries, this effort was commissioned by the French government just ten years after the conclusion of the war. Although the most notorious camps were in Poland, the documentary doesn't shy away from the French camps where the people were loaded up in cattle cars to be sent to their dooms. In this short period of time, the wounds of the collaborationists and the Vichy regime were still fresh, and Resnais' work was surely bold within that context.

The documentary features color footage of the camps as of 1955, desolate and empty, intercut with still photographs and Nazi footage of the inmates who were robbed, starved, experimented upon, and in the final ignominy, cremated and dumped into mass graves. Some of the footage is very hard to take, but its impact is undeniable. The force of the presentation is underscored by the contrast of the black-and-white archival footage and the color, modern-day footage, symbolizing the memories of the war and the deluded optimism of the present. Memory and its foci was a favorite theme of Resnais, and the film itself supports the material in a way that, while commonplace today, was novel at the time. Resnais was originally an editor, and his skills are obvious here as jump cuts between the past and present provide an impressionistic kaleidoscope through time. Grassy green fields and abandoned barbed wire are intercut with stark footage of human beings stacked up like cordwood (and often among cordwood, the easier to be burned).

Most affecting, however, is the matter-of-fact narration written by poet Jean Cayrol, himself deported to one of the camps. Intoned in a neutral near-monotone by Michel Bouquet, it makes the point (without so stating directly) that the creation of such evil is frequently a matter of bureaucracy and everyday life; Hannah Arendt a few years later would refer to this as the "banality of evil." Only in the concluding segment (reproduced in the quote above) does the language of the narration become emotional, even accusatory, as it questions and compels us to look within ourselves to ask what we are doing to prevent such an event from happening again. Or are we simply complacent that such things are in the past and can never happen again?

Although the running time is quite brief, the disc does bear the notable distinction of having the lowest list price of any Criterion disc ever, a mere $14.95. While one can hardly make a claim for the disc as entertainment, it's certainly one of the important films of our time and at this price point belongs in the collections of every serious filmlover and history buff.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The image is a bit difficult to assess. The scratchy and sometimes blurry archival film is properly left alone and not cleaned up in any way, leading to a naturalness that heightens its impact. The color segments generally look vivid, with the blues not washed out as one might expect. There's some shakiness on the titles and on still photos that could be gatefloat or might just be a handheld camera giving a documentary feel to the proceedings. There's a bit of shimmer in the color sequences, but no significant artifacting or aliasing.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchno


Audio Transfer Review: The audio is passable at best. The narration sounds rather on the tinny and shallow side, though Hanns Eisler's score in general comes across quite nicely indeed. The isolated score on the second track sounds rather better than that on the feature, but neither features a broad or expansive sound to it. The maestoso character of the score, particularly at the end, constrasts well with the mournful counterpoint, providing an added sense of pathos to the concluding segments. The audio is 1.0 mono, so obviously no directionality is to be expected. Mild noise and hiss are present, but not to a distracting degree.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Isolated Music Score with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Audio interview
Extras Review: A 1994 radio interview (5m:20s) with Alain Resnais is the most interesting extra, as it provides a little background about the making of the documentary and the difficulties with the French censors due to a French policeman overseeing deportations in one of the photos used in the film. A set of nine one-screen bios are fairly disappointing and could just as well have been omitted for as much information as they impart. More valuable are three essays by Phillip Lapate, Peter Cowie and Russell Lack. The latter of these is on Eisler's score and is particularly interesting, especially in concert with listening to the isolated music track that is thoughtfully provided. Since the composition is sometimes played as a standalone item in concert, this feature is doubly valuable as providing an original soundtrack album.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

This short but seminal documentary is given a good presentation, though the limitations of the source materials prevent it from getting the highest grades. Nonetheless highly compelling documentary filmmaking and essential viewing.

 


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