Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.
I’ve said before that there is probably no event of human experience more fully explored in film than World War II. When it comes to World War II, there is probably no event more extensively written about and filmed than the Holocaust. I have, over the course of this odyssey, seen more than my share of Holocaust-based films. None have been as brutal, as powerful, or as morally shocking as Alain Resnais’s Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog). Even the overwhelming emotional assault of Shoah cannot compare with the stark atrocity depicted in this film.
Really, I’m left with very little to say about this film. Most of us have seen some of the images of the gaunt stick figures, the shattered bodies, the skulls, the crematoria, but being exposed to them in the past is no inoculation against seeing them here. These images are, of course, of critical importance for anyone to see—they record one of the darkest and most evil times in human history, an industry of human slaughter designed only to kill as efficiently as possible. Even these, though, are not the truly awful images that stay with the viewer.
For me, the as upsetting as the images of emaciated corpses, their eyes open and mouths gaping might be, the most monumentally terrible moment comes when our narrator (Michel Bouquet) explains that the Nazis kept everything from the prisoners. We see a massive pile of spectacles, a stack of combs. And then we see hair, the hair of the female inmates shaved off upon their arrival to a camp. The shot pulls back, and still all we can see is hair. And it continues to pull back. We see what looks like a human figure in the picture, looking like nothing so much as a person climbing the side of a steep hill. This is an accurate representation, because when the camera finally finishes pulling back, we are left staring at a literal hill of hair, dozens of feet high and hundreds of feet around, the hair of thousands upon thousands of women piled up.
There is no single word for the flood of emotions—anger, fear, pain, sorrow, revulsion, pity—that hits upon witnessing this very human evidence of such a monstrous evil. There is no way to adequately put this emotional and mental outpouring of suffering, empathy, and existential pain into any words at all.
Resnais juxtaposes these terrible images with views of the concentration camps as they stand now, or at least as they stood when he made this film. Many of the buildings still stand, the crematoria now silent and looking for all the world like the fronts of simple factories. The barracks remain, now empty of people and empty of suffering. They are merely buildings now and look not unlike camp buildings, but only because there are no more anguished people inside. The camps are now filled with green grass and appear simply as abandoned complexes, no more sinister than an old factory.
Nuit et Brouillard is just over 30 minutes long, but contains within it a lifetime’s worth of horror. Despite its short length, I wanted to shut it off more than once, wanting to get away from the palpable suffering on the screen. But it’s also important to see it, to know that it happened, and to know that humanity is capable of this level of depravity.
The final moments of the film ask the real question: who is responsible? For an evil of this magnitude, perhaps no one can claim total responsibility and no one wants to claim even partial responsibility. Today, 70 years after this horror, assigning this blame is less important than simply knowing that this happened and knowing that it could happen again.
Nuit et Brouillard is a film that truly ranks as must-see. Everyone in the world should see this.
Why to watch Nuit et Brouillard: If you watch one Holocaust documentary, it should be this one.
Why not to watch: It is stomach-turning, both for its graphic images and because it was real.
This film was just so brutal and brilliant and scary and ugh, humans suck!ReplyDelete
It is truly sublime in its evil.Delete
I saw this before I saw either Shoah or The Sorrow and the Pity and I thought, "If a half hour of this affects me this much, how the hell am I supposed to watch a combined 15 hours more about it?" I did, though, mostly because they did not include the shots of emaciated corpses and prisoners that Night and Fog included.ReplyDelete
Right. It's one thing to know about the horror that is there. It's another thing entirely to have to see it.Delete
Interesting that you talk about the brutal emotional impact of the images. I'll agree that the film is overpowering on that level alone, but what I always respected about the film was Resnais's exploration of representation. He can show us all these images of the suffering, he can even show us something to represent the scales of lives lost, but does that really give us any idea of what the Holocaust was like? His ruminations on representation is what makes NIGHT AND FOG a film that I find not only emotionally draining, but one that makes me think about the inadequacy of what I am being shown.ReplyDelete
As much as I hate to say it, it's a film that I should probably watch again. There were moments that I lost Resnais's words because I was compelled to stare at what was being shown. That, and I'm frequently more affected by the visual. It's one thing to be told, another to see. For me, it's a reminder of the Stalin comment that one death is a tragedy while a million deaths are a statistic. But to actually see the million deaths is not a statistic, but horror.Delete
I am still astonished at how completely crippling this film is in just 32 minutes.
It is all so overwhelming. We know the pictures, but they are still shocking.ReplyDelete
It's one thing to know it intellectually. What this does is make sure we know it emotionally and viscerally.Delete
I've read enough books about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust - like War Against the Jews, Eichmann in Jerusalem - and seen enough movies - like Hotel Terminus, The Sorrow and the Pity, Schindler's List, The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Reifenstahl - that I wasn't sure there could be anything in 30-minute film made in 1955 that would phase me, the director's reputation notwithstanding.ReplyDelete
Boy, was I wrong.
From now on, when somebody says "Holocaust," I'm sure the first thing that will pop into my head is that pan full of heads from Night and Fog.
Just for starters.
This is pretty much what I was trying to say in the Son of Saul review. In a real way, I think this kind of burned me out on Holocaust stories, because I'm not sure there's now anything I can see that would affect me more than this did.Delete