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Posts Tagged ‘Nuit et brouillard’

nazis

The Centaur-Seeker himself penned a nice little essay at Criterion, well worth your time, a snippet herewith:

The rap against most Holocaust films is that they exploit the audience’s feelings of outrage and sorrow for commercial ends; and, by pretending to put us vicariously through such a staggeringly incomprehensible experience, they trivialize, reducing it to sentimental melodrama. Alain Resnais has done nothing of the kind. Making this film in 1955, only ten years after the liberation of the concentration camps, with the wounds so fresh, he did not presume, first of all, to speak for the victims and survivors of the camps: he chose as his screenwriter the novelist Jean Cayrol, a man who had actually been imprisoned in one. Second, neither he nor Cayrol presumed to offer a comprehensive guide to the concentration camp universe. Quite the contrary: the voiceover is filled with skepticism and doubt, and a sympathetic awareness of the viewer’s resistance, conscious or unconscious, to grasping the unthinkable. “Useless to describe what went on in these cells,” and “Words are insufficient,” we are told again and again in the voiceover narration. “No description, no picture can reveal their true dimension.” And: “Is it in vain that we try to remember?” Meanwhile, the viewer is calmly given information about the Nazis’ extermination procedures. Thus the dialectic is set up between the necessity of remembering, and the impossibility of doing so.

Night and Fog is, in effect, an antidocumentary: we cannot “document” this particular reality, it is too heinous, we would be defeated in advance. What can we do, then? Resnais’ and Cayrol’s answer is: we can reflect, ask questions, examine the record, and interrogate our own responses. In short, offer up an essay. Moreover, by choosing to compress such enormous subject matter into only a half-hour (think, by contrast, of Claude Lanzmann’s over-nine-hour Shoah, [1985]), the filmmakers force themselves into the epigrammatic concision and synthesis of essayistic reflection.

This effort at analysis and reflection is one of the ways the filmmakers work to evade pious sentimentality: indeed, the voiceover narration (masterfully spoken by Michel Bouquet) is delivered in a harsh, dry, astringent tone, filled with ironic shadings (though, according to the filmmaker himself, he asked Bouquet to deliver his lines in a “neutral tone”). The magnificent score by Hanns Eisler is also employed ironically: the lovely, lyrical flute passages collide with harrowing images, the Schoenbergian pizzicato strings signal the revving up of the Nazi machine. (Just as Cayrol’s text is unusually elegant, dense, and poetic for a film voiceover, so the Eisler score is not your typical movie background music, but a modern composition that has since been performed in concert halls.)

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