I have a vivid recollection of going to see Schindler's List at the cinema. I must have been about 17 at the time, it disturbed me, one of my friends even more so as she spent most of the film weeping hysterically. The film does not fail to upset me, to make me question things, to be astounded by such a horror happening so recently in our "civilised" history and yet there is that Hollywood gloss there isn't there? I think what you do get is Speilbergs attempts to make the history and truth of the Holocaust something more easily accessible. This is a good thing, I would not seek to criticise it. The fact that many schools in the U.S.A and in the U.K had screenings for their pupils shows that it can be watched by the most sensitive eyes and minds.

Nuit et Brouillard moves you up a level in the potential reactions you can have about a film. The film sickened me the first time I saw it. I felt physically sick. I have had the same reaction every time I have seen it since. It is not the sort of thing you decide to watch to entertain, but it is something that should be watched again and again. It reminds you of what happened, it reminds you that similar things go on even today and it makes you value your freedom all the more.

Origins

The phrase Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog) originates from the decree introduced by the Nazi party in 1941, I have noded this here for those of you who would like to read it. The premise was basically to make any "undesirables" disappear, to vanish in the night and fog if you like. You may have seen images of camp inmates wearing the symbol "NN" - this stands for Nacht und Nebel (Nuit et Brouillard, Night and Fog).

Aside from the historical truth of the phrase, the title is also evocative of the fog that surrounded those hellish arrival points, the heavy wrought iron gates, "Arbeit macht frei"...the segregation of those scrawny confused bodies into useful and non-useful. The smoke rising above the camp, from a chimney, the snow-like ashes falling from the sky.

We see this imagery in Schindlers List. In Resnais' piece, the truth of our dark history is altogether more shocking.

The 30 minute piece was comissioned by the French Committee for the History of the Second World War in 1955, for screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Resnais, with words written by Jean Cayrol (a poet and camp survivor) and music by Hans Eisler, the film is simple, with glances of black humour, and more than anything, has that ability to leave a lasting impression on your mind.

"The job is begun. Building a concentration camp like a stadium or hotel, means contractors, estimators, bids....Architects calmly design doorways to be entered only once. Meanwhile, Burger, a German workman; Stern, a Jewish student in Amsterdam; Schmulski, a shopkeeper in Krakow; Annette, a schoolgirl in Bordeaux....live on unaware. Until the day only they are needed to make the camps complete."

The camera work is subtle, alternating wide, panning shots of a camp as it is today, in the sunshine, surrounded by grass, with stark documentary footage of the camps as they were. This has a strong effect, it serves to remind us that these things happened, by flashing an image in colour, we relate it to the modern day. We see the remains of the "crematorium" with its horrific machinery and this is followed by an image of bodies being loaded into the ovens. This happened, this is real.

The images in themselves would be enough to serve the purpose of the film, but Resnais enhances this further with the addition of the poetic narrative of Cayrol. This man lived part of the horrific experience himself, so he speaks as an authority on the subject. The narrative is sad, moving, and yet the narrator (Michel Bousquet), does not show an awful lot of emotion in his voice. The words are spoken, there are hints of irony and sarcasm, but the tone remains unemotional. Where Shindlers List may have sought to play on our heart strings with characterisation- the personal touch to the story, Resnais' film does not seek this route at all. The effect is nevertheless profound. We absorb the words that are spoken, this truth. We question how anybody could deny this truth.

Music and Words

The music is another key part of the film. Eisler's music is continual, it does not stop at any point in the film and most significantly it has no sense of resolution for maybe the first 15 minutes of the 30 minute piece. it does not settle on a key, it moves from theme to theme. Until we come to the description of the shower rooms, then, maybe surprisingly, we do shift finally to a major key. However, and you can try this out for yourself with any song or film theme you know.....a major key, a happy tune mixed with sad images or sorrowful words, enhances the import of what you are seeing or hearing. It makes it more poignant.

And yet, despite the shock of the film, we are left with a sense of optimism. Both Cayrol's speech and Eisler's music seek to uplift us at the end of the piece. The music is ascending, finally resting happily in the major key, the words are resolute, with a sense of lessons learned, with a note of warning to future generations.....do not forget...

"As I talk to you, cold marsh waters fill the ditches, as cold and sluggish as our memories. War has dozed off, one eye still open. Grass grows again around the blocks, an abandoned village, still full of menace....Nine million dead haunt this scene. From this strange observatory, who watches to warn of new executioners? Do they really look so different from us? Somewhere amongst us remain undetected Kapos, officers, informers. There are all those who didn't believe, or only sometimes. And those of us who see the monster as being buried under these ruins, finding hope in finally being rid of this totallitarian disease. Pretending to believe it happened, but once, in one century, and not seeing what goes on around us, not heeding the unending cry."

One interesting point relating to the French reaction to the film is that one frame was edited: a guard, a french guard, is photographed keeping watch over a camp from a tower. The authorities asked that the tip of the gendarme hat be obscured - to make the image neutral.

Director: Alain Resnais; Assistant Director: Andre Heinrich; Commentary: Jean Cayrol; Narrator: Michel Bousquet; Music: Hans Eisler; Producer: Argos Films, Como, Cocinor

Upon watching Alain Resnais' 32 minute documentary-style French film, which consisted of clips and images from the Holocaust combined with "present day" (1955) sequences, I wrote this essay on the topic of the motives and limitations of the project.


Nuit et Brouillard : un mémorial sentimentaliste de construction politique
Night and Fog: An Emotional Memorial of Political Construction

written by kaytay

Nuit et Brouillard est un film dont quelques limites et objectifs sont évidents. Tout d’abord, il y a un grand manque de faits concrets dans la plupart des scènes, et aussi il existe beaucoup de généralisations et de simplifications. Également, il y a la question de la participation du governement français dans ce film et les changements qu’il a fais pour créer une image d’une France « unanimement résistante » (Ramirez). Donc, au lieu des faits et détails, le metteur en scène utilise des émotions pour créer un mémorial d’une France acceptable. C’est pour ces raisons que certains voient le film comme un mémorial sentimentaliste de construction politique au lieu d'une leçon des faits et des dates. En vérité, le but du film peut, en partie, expliquer ces limites.

Night and Fog is a film in which some limitations and objectives are evident. First of all, there is an obvious lack of concrete facts in most scenes, and also there are many generalizations and simplifications. Equally, there is the issue of the French governement's participation in the film and the changes that it made to create an image of a "unanimously resistant" France. Therefore, instead of facts and details, the director uses emotions to create a memorial of an acceptable France. It is for these reasons that certain people see the film as an emotional memorial of political construction instead of a lesson of facts and dates. In truth, the goal of the film can, in part, explain its limits.
Un exemple du manque de faits, est qu'il n’y a que deux dates mentionnées dans le film, celle de 1933 et celle de 1942. En plus, les noms des camps sont donnés une seule fois dans une liste au début du film, puis ils ne sont plus mentionés. Donc nous ne savons ni quand ni où les événements montrés dans les images se sont passés. Comment pouvons-nous croire à la validité des choses sans aucune explication ? C’est la plus grande limite de Nuit et Brouillard.

An example of the lack of facts is that there are only two dates mentioned in the entire film; 1933 and 1942. In addition, the names of the camps are given one time only, at the beginning of the film, and never mentioned again. Thus we cannot know when or where the events in the displayed film clips and pictures took place. How can we believe in the validity of things without explanation? This is the biggest limit of the movie.
Une autre limite du film est le manque de distinctions entre des choses très differentes. Tous les camps dans les images du film étaient plus ou moins équivalents, sans distinction entre les détails spécifiques qui n'ont concerné que certains camps ou certaines personnes. Par exemple, le film montre bien les chambres à gaz d'un camp, mais il ne dit rien au sujet de la spécificité du génocide juif. En fait, le film ne dit rien pour distinguer entre les prisonniers politiques et les juifs, qui ont reçus des traitments différents selon leur histoire criminelle ou leur religion. En plus, il n’y a pas de distinction entre des camps d'extermination et ceux de concentration ; le film ne dit jamais qu’il n’y a pas de chambres à gaz dans chaque camp. Les spectateurs sont amenés à croire ce qu'ils veulent, sans tentative de les décourager de conclure que le pire était vrai.

Another limit of the film is the lack of distinction between very different things. All the camps in the images were more or less equivalent, without distinction between specific details which only involved certain people or certain camps. For example, the film does a good job of showing gas chambers of one camp, but it does not say a thing about the specificity of the genocide of Jews. In fact, the film says nothing to distinguish between political prisoners and Jews, who received very different treatment based on their criminal history or their religion. In addition to this, there is no distinction between work camps and death camps; the film never says that there are not gas chambers in every camp. The viewers are led to believe that which they will, without any effort to discourage them from concluding that the absolute worst was true.
En plus, le narrateur parle du nombre de « neuf millions » en dehors d’un contexte clair. Vers la fin du film, une caméra "d’aujourd’hui" montre un scène d’un camp ancien, quand le narrateur dit que « le crématoire [de ce camp] est hors d’usage... neuf millions de morts hantent ce paysage. » Quel paysage ? Celui du seul camp que nous voyons pendant le monologue ? Celui de toute la France, où peut-être celui du monde entier ? Nous ne savons pas si neuf millions de personnes sont mortes en totalité, ou si neuf millions personnes sont mortes dans chaque camp. La généralisation du nombre mène à la possibilité que les spectateurs peuvent arriver à des conclusions défectueuses.

Also, the narrator speaks of the number "nine million" outside of a clear context. Towards the end of the film, there is a scene where a camera from "today" (1955) shows the landscape of former camp, when the narrator says that "the crematorium [of this camp] is out of use... nine million dead haunt this countryside." Which countryside? That of this one camp that we see during the monologue? That of all France, or mybe that of the entire world? We do not know if nine million people died in total, or if nine million people died at each camp. The generalization of the number leads to the possibility that the viewers can jump to incorrect conclusions.
Une autre exemple du manque de distinction et de la pléthore de généralisations est évident quand le narrateur dit « [Ils ont été] rasés, tatoués, numérotés, » et on montre une image d’un bras avec des nombres tatoués sur la peau ; le narrateur ne dit pas que les tatouages ne sont utilisés qu’à Auschwitz. Encore, les spectateurs ne reçoivent pas l'histoire entière dans ce film.

Another example of the lack of distinction and the plethora of generalizations is evident when the narrator says, "[They were] shaved, tattooed, numbered..." and the film shows a picture of an arm with numbers tattooed on the skin; the narrator does not say that tattooing was only used at Auschwitz and no other camps. Again, the viewers do not receive the whole story in the film.
La raison pour cela peut être expliquée, un petit peu, par l’intervention du gouvernement, qui a coupé quelques scènes du film pour effacer l'appearance de la collaboration française avec les nazis pendant l’Occupation. Au sujet de la censure, selon l’auteur (Jean Cayrol) du texte du film :

The reason for this might be explained, a little, by the intervention of the government, who cut several scenes rom the film in order to erase the appearance of Franch collaboration with the Nazis during the Occupation. On the suject of censure, in the opinion of the author of the text of the film (Jean Cayrol): « Pour des motifs politiques d’opportunité que notre propre pays n’aurait pu se permettre d’avoir, tout de même, sans le sacrifice de tant de concentrationnaires, elle arrache brusquement de l’Histoire les pages qui ne lui plaisent plus... elle se fait complice de l’horreur... » (Raskin, 38).
"For the political motives of opportunity that our own country did not allow to exist, all the same, without the sacrifice of so many concentration camp victims, she brusquely tears out the pages of History which no longer please her... she was an accomplice of the horror..."
Ce film a été tourné dix ans après la fin de la guerre, et le besoin de créer une France unifiée et innocente existait encore. Donc il y avait « une volonté d'amnésie, » afin de ne pas troubler l'imagerie d'une France résistante et héroique, qui explique la censure de certaines scènes ou la police française a été montrée comme une conspiratrice sous l'Occupation. Bien qu’Alain Resnais (le metteur en scène) ait essayé de montrer sincèrement la participation de la France, le gouvernement n'a pas pensé que le peuple était prêt à voir tous les faits.

This film was shot ten years after the end of the war, and the need to create a unified and innocent France still existed. Thus, there was "a will of amnesia," so as to avoid troubling the image of a resistant and heroic France, which explains the censure od certain scenes where the France police was shown as conspirators under the Occupation. Even though Alain Resnais (the director) tried to sincerely show France's participation , the gov't did not think the people were ready to see it.
Parce qu'il ne pouvait pas montrer tous les aspects des circonstances autour des camps, Resnais a été partiellement forcé à limiter la quantité des faits dans le film. Bien que la censure sait loin d'avoir été la seule raison du manque de clarté, elle a certainement rendu le film encore plus incomplet qu'avant que les scènes aient été supprimées. D’autant plus, le film doit compter sur les effets des sentiments sur les spectateurs.

Because he could not show all the aspects of circumstances surrounding the camps, Resnais was partially forced to limit the quantity of facts in the film. Even though the censure was far from the only reason for the lack of clarity, it certainly rendered the film more incomplete than before the scenes were removed. Moreover, the film must count on the effects of emotions on its viewers.
Pour faire appel aux émotions, Resnais utilise des images choquantes et terribles pour créer un sentiment de confusion dans l'esprit des spectateurs. Sans les faits parlés pour les brouiller, les spectateurs sont vulnérables et malléables ; c’est-à-dire que les images graphiques ont traversé et cassé leurs défenses mentales, donc ils sont dans un état de choc. Le narrateur n’a que besoin de faire des suggestions sentimentalistes pour diriger les émotions des spectateurs, et ils vont croire ses idées.

In order to appeal to emotions, Resnais uses shocking and terrible pictures to create a sentiment of confusion in the minds of viewers. Without facts to distract them, the spectators are vulnerable and maleable; that is to say, the graphic images have crossed and broken their mental defenses, and so they are in a state of shock. The narrator need only make a few sentimental suggestions to guide the emotions of the viewers, and they will believe his ideas.
Par conséquent, nous pouvons comprendre pourquoi ce film est regarder comme un mémorial. Il y a deux idées importantes qui font appel aux émotions des spectateurs : celle de la la nécessité de la croyance des camps, et celle de la nécessité de ne pas oublier, parce que les choses qui sont responsables pour les événements ne sont pas encore finis. Ces idées sont évidentes quand le narrateur dit que,
By consequence, we can understand why this film is seen as a memorial. There are two important ideas which rely and call upon the emotions of the viewers: the necessity to believe in the camps, and the necessity of not forgetting, because the things which or responsible for the events are not yet finished. These ideas are evident when the narrator says that,

« Il y a tous ceux qui n’y croyaient pas, ou seulement de temps en temps. Il y a nous qui regardons sincèrement ces ruines comme si le vieux monstre concentrationnaire était mort sous les décombres... comme si on guérissait de la peste concentrationnaire, nous qui feignons de croire que tout cela est d’un seul temps et d’un seul pays… »

"There are all those who do not believe, or only from time to time. There are those of us who watch with sincerity these ruins as if the old monster of the concentration camp died under the destroyed buildings... as if one got rid of the concentration camp pest, we who pretend to believe that all this happened only one time, in one country..."
Il veut dire que, quoique nous ne puissions pas voir les camps comme ils étaient pendant la deuxième guerre mondiale, l'esprit dand lequel les camps ont été créés existe encore, et si nous ne nous le rappelons pas, il y a la possibilité que l’Holocauste puisse se passer encore. Et, malgré le fait que l’herbe a repoussé sur la terre des camps, et malgré le fait que les bâtiments sont des ruines, les souvenirs ne doivent pas être effacés, et nous ne pouvons pas douter de l’existence des camps.

He wants to say that, even though we can't see the camps as there were during WWII, the spirit in which they were created still exists, and if we do not remember it, there is the possibility that the Holocaust could happen again. And, despite the fact that the grass has grown anew over the grounds of the camps, and despite the fact that the buildings are in ruins, the memories must not be erased, and we cannot doubt the existance of the camps.
En bref, les faits ne sont pas aussi importants que l’évocation du besoin de se rappeler de l’Holocauste pas comme des détails spécifiques, mais comme un grand événement horrible où les Français n’avaient aucune responsibilité (ou, au moins, ils n’en avaient pas autant que les autres). En évoquant certains sentiments par des images choquantes, le metteur en scène peut mieux toucher le spectateur et plus facilement que des faits présentés de manière académique. Par l’exclusion des dates, des noms des endroits, ou autres détails mineurs, le metteur en scène évite la possibilité que ses spectateurs feront plus attention à ces détails au lieu d'identifier la nécessité de se rappeler que les camps ont vraiment existé, et que « le vieux monstre concentrationnaire » n’est pas mort avec la fin de la guerre.
In brief, the facts are not as important as the evocation of the need to remember the Holocaust not as specific details, but as an horrible overall event in which the French had no responsibility (or, at least, they did not have as much as others). By evoking certain sentiments by shocking images, the director can better and more easily touch the viewers than by facts presented in an academic fashion. By the exclusion of dates, names and places, and other minor details, the director avoids the possibility that the viewers may pay more attention to these details instead of identifying the need to remember that the camps truly existed, and that "the old monster of the cncentration camps" did not die with the end of the war.

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