Night and Fog, 1955

There is a dual meaning behind the title of Alain Resnais’ eviscerating holocaust documentary, Night and Fog: a reference to the arrival of interned prisoners into concentration camps under the cloak of darkness, and the subconscious suppression of knowledge and culpability for the resulting horror of the committed atrocities. Arguably one of the finest documentaries ever captured on film, Night and Fog opens with the fluid, horizontal tracking of an idyllic, seemingly impressionistic, barren countryside. But this is no ordinary remote open field. It is 1955, and this is postwar Poland, the site: Auschwitz. Using highly unsettling, archival footage recorded during postwar liberation contrasted against the stillness of the modern-day landscape, Resnais creates a powerful, haunting chronicle of cruelty, dehumanization, and denial of personal responsibility. As in his subsequent feature film, Hiroshima mon amour, Night and Fog is an examination of repressed memory. However, unlike Hiroshima mon amour where actions have individual, emotional consequence, Night and Fog is a scathing indictment of the conscious, deliberate obscuration of truth – an oppressive truth with moral and universal repercussions. In 1955, ten years after the end of World War II, the deflection of accountability are reflected in the Nuremberg trials, a defiance of personal guilt tempered by cowardice, as the narrator (Jean Cayrol), a concentration camp survivor, asks the fundamental question: Who is responsible? Even today, at the turn of the century, it is still a relevant question that is met with uncomfortable silence.

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