“Who among us keeps watch over this strange watchtower to warn the arrival of our new executioners? Are their faces really different from our own?”
I first heard about Night and Fog from another film I watched recently, Hotel Terminus. It was described as an important persuasion piece against early Holocaust denial. It’s a short, meditative piece in which Alain Resnais shows footage of concentration camps Auschwitz and Majdanek with reflective narration by Michel Bouquet.
It seems every film about the Holocaust hits you in a different way. The clear theme of Fog and War is that we must not forget the crimes against humanity that have occurred. The footage and the narration invite you to consider the daily activities of the camp. It makes you think about logistics. I was reminded of when I walked through Auschwitz myself. A ground-level tour of these places brings a sadness that hits close to home, as if you’re seeing the atrocities before your eyes. Night and Fog captures this realism, this familiarity with the real world. It’s effective in a way that Hollywood dramatization isn’t.
I can only imagine the impact that this movie had given its recency. I think I can take for granted how easy it is to film important places and events today, but it must have been unreal to collect footage from Auschwitz only a decade after its liberation. Night and Fog reminds you that documentary film is important. It boldly claims, “This happened. Don’t forget about it.” In only a half hour of film, it remains one of the most effective calls for remembrance I’ve seen in a film.
The writing by Jean Cayrol is also worth noting. The poetry couples with the imagery perfectly. It’s a dazing experience to see Night and Fog. The immersion of the visuals is equally matched by the somber narration: a reflection on one of humanity’s greatest tragedies. You could read this writing in a book and be stunned all the same, but the restrained of the now-dormant concentration camp imagery lulls you into a powerful melancholy that good documentary so rarely accomplishes.
It’s the job of storytellers to make the world feel smaller. Facts and figures do little to convey the human weight of some tragedies. Night and Fog does a lot more. I found it compelling and terribly important, and I believe it should continue to be studied for years to come.
Films Left to Watch: 833