“Night And Fog” (1955)

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By Jerome Reuter

Over the years, there have been several documentaries and films made about the Holocaust. Celluloid is the ultimate storyteller; it keeps memories, fantasies, and different visions alive and well. There are some events that should never be forgotten, and the Holocaust is one of them. It’s quite possibly the greatest inhumanity imaginable, and should never be forgotten. The challenge to the filmmaker, narrative and documentarian alike, is how to go about telling a story such as this. How does one commit the darkest side of humanity to film? Is there a proper way to present it? There’s one documentary film that sticks out in my mind. It’s one that’s shocking in its realism, and effective in its simplicity; 1955’s Night And Fog.

Directed by Alain Resnais and released a decade after the liberation of the camps, this remains a provocative piece, event today. When we think of the modern documentary, there are a few things quickly come to mind. We might think of interviews, reenactments, and sometimes-biased opinions. Thankfully, you’ll find none of those here. All you have are the cold, hard facts.

The narrative is told through archive footage, stock photos, and images of what the camps looked like at the time of production. Sometimes you can say more with a single image, than you can with a two-hour film. We’re taken on a journey, one that you won’t be forgetting anytime in the immediate future. The archival footage reminds us of what actually happened. We see the foundations of what became an appalling mass genocide, and the results from what happened.

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The new footage shot by Resnais, help illustrate the story, and helps bring it to life. Although one might think that a shot of a deserted camp, bare bunk bed, or a barbed wire fence would have an effect, they certainly do. These scenes filmed in color contrast with the black and white stock footage shot by the perpetrators. In a lot of ways, they remind us that these events aren’t to far gone from the pages of history. It’s the absence of life from these images that create a brooding atmosphere, one that stays with you.

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This isn’t just a good film, and it’s not just a great film, it’s an important film. It holds up as one of the greatest documentaries ever made. French new wave auteur Francois Truffaut described it as ‘the greatest film ever made.’ It might not be the greatest, but in my opinion it’s one everybody needs to see. The world we live in is full of unspeakable evil, found both in the past, and the present. Now more than ever, we need a reminder. We need to remember that those who can’t remember the past, are doomed to repeat it.

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