(director/writer: Alain Resnais; screenwriter: Jean Cayrol; cinematographers: Ghislain Cloquet/Sacha Vierny; editor: Alain Resnais; music: Hanns Eisler; cast: Michel Bouquet (Narrator); Runtime: 32; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Anatole Dauman/Samy Halfon/Philippe Lifchitz; Criterion; 1955)

“Still remains timely.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This short 32-minute Holocaust documentary by French New Wave filmmaker Alain Resnais (“Muriel”/”Hiroshima, Mon Amour”/”Last Year at Marienbad”) is one of the most powerful made on the subject and still remains timely. It deals with Resnais’ pet theme of repressed memory. It effectively uses unsettling black-and-white archival footage recorded during the postwar liberation. It shows the interned prisoners arriving at night to the concentration camp along with footage of Hitler and his maniacal henchmen Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Julius Streicher, and uses color film as it intermixes that against the serene modern-day landscape of an autumnal abandoned Auschwitz with its rusted wire, harmless looking rundown buildings and its no longer functioning crematoria. It sets a tone of muted outrage at such inhumanity and makes you wonder why the world couldn’t see these horrid deeds when they were taking place. The night part of the title indicates how the death camps operated under the cloak of darkness to hide it from the world; the fog part indicates how cloudy the world’s memories are and how knowledge is suppressed in our subconsciousness so that we tune out who is responsible for these crimes against mankind. If the fog is not lifted over that suppression, Resnais is certain these atrocities will happen again. In a 1992 interview, Resnais said the film was also meant to be an allegorical statement of the French war in Algeria.

Jean Cayrol wrote the poetic narration for Night and Fog and Hans Eisler’s tense score complemented the great emotional sense of indignation Resnais brought to this tender and austere film. Its short length might be a good enough reason for those who chose to see this Holocaust film over some of the other moving ones like Shoah, which were much longer. Resnais’ film leaves one pondering for answers in the end of “Who is responsible?,” a question innocently asked by a concentration camp survivor.