10. ‘Night and Fog’
A mere decade after the liberation of Auschwitz, famed director Alain Resnais faced the subject in a 32-minute documentary. He decided to tackle the material only when survivor and resistance fighter Jean Cayrol agreed to write the script. As read by Michel Bouquet, Cayrol’s poetic lyricism is the backbone to Hanns Eisler’s haunting score. Resnais turns the Nazi’s proclivity for documentation on its head, employing their own black and white stock footage to unflinchingly show life in the camps, from experimentation and gas chambers to the final shots of bodies being bulldozed into mass graves. Tragically empty contemporary footage of the camps speaks as much to the lives lost as archival footage of death and destruction. “Night and Fog” is still considered to be one of the best Holocaust documentaries. François Truffaut even went so far as to name it the greatest film ever made.
But at its release in 1955, French censors attempted to squash the film, displeased by a shot of a French police officer working for the Nazis. The German Embassy in France tried to have the film barred from the Cannes Film Festival. The film’s producer, Anatole Dauman, told Resnais, “It will never see a theatrical release.” Though critics received the film with open arms, so soon after the horrors of the war, the French were eager to forget.