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Ten years after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, filmmaker Alain Resnais documented the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz. One of the first cinematic reflections on the horrors of the Holocaust, Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard) contrasts the stillness of the abandoned camps' quiet, empty buildings with haunting wartime footage. With Night and Fog, Resnais investigates the cyclical nature of man's violence toward man and presents the unsettling suggestion that such horrors could come again.

Alain Resnais
Writing Credits:
Jean Cayrol

Not Rated.

Fullscreen 1.33:1
French Digital Mono

Runtime: 31 min.
Price: $14.95
Release Date: 6/24/2003

• Interview with Director Alain Resnais
• Isolated Music Track
• Crew Profiles
• 8-Page Booklet Including Liner Notes

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Night and Fog: Criterion Collection (1955)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 1, 2003)

The folks behind the Criterion Collection refer to their releases as “a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films”. That doesn’t mean all of them are pleasant to watch, though. High on the list of tough to take movies stands 1955’s documentary Night and Fog, a thoroughly disquieting documentary about Nazi concentration camps.

The movie starts gently enough, as it leads us through then-current footage of the abandoned properties. Shot in color, the quiet and subdued landscapes present a modest picture even as the narrator starts to discuss the origins of the camps and their creation. The movie quickly introduces historical footage of the Nazis and the locations, but nothing terrible appears during the early stages.

Inevitably, we eventually see the effects of what happened at the camps, and those moments become very tough to take. I don’t think that Fog wallows in these moments, and it certainly doesn’t use them for gratuitous reasons. To be sure, it’s important to see these scenes to get a grasp on the nature of what occurred.

But that doesn’t make them any easier to watch. The movie includes shots such as one of a bucket of severed human heads and a few that shows mounds of emaciated corpses. Viewers will be familiar with many – if not most – of these, as they’ve appeared in a number of other places, but we rarely observe them packaged together in such a manner.

Director Alain Resnais presents the material in a somewhat unusual manner, mostly due to the occasionally pastoral nature of the film. The most incongruous feel stems from the flick’s oddly peppy and flowery score. It felt like it went with a nature documentary and not a depiction of man’s inhumanity to man. However, this contrast seems effective, as the calm demeanor of the narrator and the languid pacing of the visuals conflict with the terrible nature of what we see.

While I don’t mean to dwell, I do find it difficult to get past the graphic nature of the content. Actually, not all of the upsetting scenes showed the expected horrific images. For example, one of the most disturbing shots showed an colossal pile of human hair shorn from the female victims. In itself, that doesn’t seem bothersome, but the shot continues forever as we see the magnitude of the mound. As we connect the enormity of number of heads from which the hair came with the visuals, the image turns truly distressing.

All of this makes Night and Fog a genuinely important film but not one that I’d ever care to watch again. Resnais creates a masterful document that never becomes shrill or overly emotional. Via its dispassionate nature, the content makes even more of an impact.

But Fog remains a documentary probably most valuable for history classes. I’m not easily upset by graphic visuals, but this one had me reaching for the remote to stop it. I watched the whole thing because I won’t review something I’ve not finished, but I frequently glanced at the time counter on my DVD player to see how much more I needed to endure. I admire the work behind Fog and think it’s an extremely significant piece, but I’ll gladly pass on the DVD to someone else, as I just won’t ever desire to see it another time.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B- / Bonus C-

Night and Fog appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, dssle-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture seemed surprisingly strong given the age and genre of the production.

Sharpness looked quite good. The source material occasionally turned a bit soft or indistinct, but not frequently. Instead, the image usually seemed well defined and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects appeared absent, and I witnessed no signs of edge enhancement.

As one might expect, a mix of source defects cropped up throughout the film. Mostly I saw running vertical lines, but debris, marks and specks also manifested themselves. Those appeared during the historical shots; the then-contemporary images of the camps looked very clean. Even the pre-existing footage was less flawed than I anticipated. Sure, quite a few concerns were there, but they didn’t come across as heavy or prevalent. The most distracting issue affected shots of a train as it rolled out; those bits looked jumpy and fluttery. Otherwise, the movie was unexpectedly free from problems.

While most of Fog used pre-existing black and white footage, then-new color shots of the camps appeared sporadically through the piece. The hues looked somewhat subdued, but they seemed smooth and fairly accurate nonetheless. Black levels varied dependent on the source, but they were fine across the board, and low-light sequences also displayed no significant issues. It feels kind of odd to nitpick the visuals of a movie such as this, but it appeared that a lot of effort went into the transfer for Fog.

The film’s monaural soundtrack also seemed reasonably positive for its era. Speech could appear somewhat edgy and coarse at times, but the lines mostly displayed acceptable accuracy and natural qualities. No effects appeared during the production. The score was surprisingly rich and full given its age. The music never really leapt to life, but it sounded fairly vivid and tight. A little noise and popping occurred, but the track mostly seemed clean and free from source defects. Overall the audio was fine.

Only a smattering of extras appear on Night and Fog. In addition to the film’s standard French soundtrack, you can watch it with an isolated score, which offers a nice alternative for movie music fans. The Crew Profiles give us fairly brief and perfunctory looks at director Alain Resnais, producer Anatole Dauman, writer Jean Cayrol, cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet, assistant cinematographer Sacha Vierny, composer Hanns Eisler, historical consultants Olga Wormser and Henri Michel, and assistant director Chris Marker.

Lasting five minutes and 15 seconds, we get a 1994 interview with director Alain Resnais. Recorded for a radio show called “Le Etoiles du cinema”, this clip tells us a little about how Resnais came onto the project, but it mostly focuses on a controversy that almost resulted in major cuts to the film. It’s too brief to give us much information, but it adds a bit of useful material.

Finally, the set comes with an eight-page booklet. Film critic Phillip Lopate offers an appraisal of the movie, while historian Peter Cowie gives us some short notes about “origins and controversy”. Lastly, Russell Lock writes “about the composer”. While this booklet lacks the detail and depth of the better Criterion offerings, it nonetheless contributes a reasonable amount of worthwhile information.

A powerful account of the Nazi concentration camps, Night and Fog tells its tale well and creates a strong look at the horrors that occurred in these places. However, its strength also becomes something of a weakness, as the graphic visuals make the movie very difficult to watch at times. The DVD presents picture and sound that seem quite good given the age and nature of the project, and the smattering of extras bring a little to the package. With a price of less than $15, Night and Fog makes an invaluable addition to the collections of history buffs or those in education, but don’t expect to want to check it out for non-instructional reasons, as it remains one of the most unpleasant viewing experiences I’ve encountered.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6744 Stars Number of Votes: 43
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