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Night and Fog (1955)
Night and Fog (French: Nuit et brouillard) is a 1955 French documentary short film. Directed by Alain Resnais, it was made ten years after the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. The documentary features the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz and Majdanek while describing the lives of prisoners in the camps. Night and Fog was made in collaboration with scriptwriter Jean Cayrol, a survivor of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. The music of the soundtrack was composed by Hanns Eisler. Resnais was originally hesitant about making the film and refused the offer to make it until Cayrol was contracted to write the script. The film was shot entirely in the year 1955 and is composed of contemporary shots of the camps and stock footage. Resnais and Cayrol found the film very difficult to make due to its graphic nature and subject matter. The film faced difficulties with French censors unhappy with a shot of a French police officer in the film, and with the German embassy in France, which attempted to halt the film's release at the Cannes Film Festival. Night and Fog was released to very positive acclaim and still receives very high praise today.
Barely 30 minutes in length, the short film comprises a current (for 1955) tour of the various concentration camps intercut with archival video from them. Modern-day documentaries (why they keep making new ones I'll never figure out) show the crumbling facades of Auschwitz and its brethren, but in '55 things were still relatively intact. Although the architecture was already decaying -- a testament to how hastily the camps were constructed -- you can still sense the presence of the victims who resided in the dormitories and gave up their lives in the furnaces. Surprisingly it's not this footage that is the most powerful; rather, when Resnais shows us the present day, with its disintigrating mortar between the bricks and not a soul to be found, we get a real sense of history and how quickly it can create a new identity.
Of course, in the end this is still just a short film, but it proves more than enough to give the viewer a complete understanding of the events in Nazi Germany, right down to the heirarchy among regular soldiers, SS officers, and camp commanders.
The Criterion DVD -- undoubtedly the shortest film ever to get the Criterion treatment -- adds an audio interview excerpt with Resnais and a pair of essays about the film and its composer. You can also isolate the audio track tor provide the music only; considering it's narrated in French and subtitled, you might as well.
Aka Nuit et brouillard.