NIGHT AND FOG, ALAIN RESNAIS, 1955 (Original Title: Nuit et brouillard)


In its short history, the newest art form – cinema has evolved economically and aesthetically. So much so ,that it undoubtedly has become the most ‘impressive’ visual library of events and plots, myths and realities, and ideas and inspirations from history, of present and for future. It’s one of the most powerful characteristics being the ability to ‘recreate’. But, for Alain Resnais, this power instills a great destructive threat that he exemplifies with documentary-esque retelling of Nazi violence through Night And Fog. ‘Night and Fog’ or in german ‘Nacht Und Nebel’ was a decree issued for the people gone missing, supposedly, in the night and fog during the Reich years. These missing people, labeled as ‘NN’, were to be found as a target segment filling the concentration camps. Thus, Night and Fog is a narrative of the voiceless and the lost.

The film starts with the camera taking a walk through the many alleys of concentration camps built symmetrically all over Germany as the narrator reveals  their haunted past. Cut to 1933, Nazi army marches below Hitler’s stretched-and-stiff right arm. And “The nation gets to work”. The millions (counting is a defeat) from millions of miles away, unaware, go about their daily lives as the camps are being shaped. On screen, a montage of victims in various places, bundled together, begin their drag to camps. Cramped and bolted, the train starts. Alain Resnais, rather than recreating the scene uses actual footage of the time and event. His oral narration speeds the story up. The camera comes to present, revisiting the tracks as if the narrator is finding traces of tragedy. This back and forth in time gives a character to the audience that of a tourist revisiting the camps physically and in memory. As Resnais shows and tells the grotesque of nazism explicitly, with subtlety he destroys the myths and fantasies about the violence. As I watched the film, each moving frame was destroying the imagery recreated by other visual takes on the same subject. The scenes, from schindler’s list to Inglorious Basterds to Korzack to Triumph of the Will, associated with the phenomenon became dull and blurred. Night and Fog, visually and vocally, redefined the most violent and impactful event giving it a meaning that it deserves (for me).

Resnais’ fascination with the effects of memory and time on human behavior makes for the structure of the movie. Intellectually it contests that style depends on subject for delivering its true meaning. As he deals with history, Resnais chooses to revisit it as a memory shared rather than a fetish recreation that might even fail to restore the context. For him, recreation of a tragedy is itself a tragedy. Not at all an entertainer, Night and Fog is a nail-eroding experience that might choke the popcorn munching throat.

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