Thursday, January 26, 2006

Night and Fog: an illustrated lecture at the Ciné lumière

Last night was the launch of Wallflower's book on the 50th anniversary of Alain Resnais' film, Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard), the first film to deal with the holocaust, and a seminal piece in the construction of a visual memory of the collective memory of humanity's worst calamity. The screening of the film was preceded by a presentation by the editor of the book Uncovering the Holocaust: the International Reception of Night and Fog, Ewout van der Knaap, who analysed the impact the film has had throughout its 50-year career in Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands and the USA.

Van der Knaap said that the analysis of the film's reception is like "a litmus test for the memory of the holocaust" and that is it is "central to Jewish American narrative", but not really so in the UK where Hocaust awareness is alarmingly low. Overall, he said, the film has had a huge impact, one that began right after the controversy during the 1956 Cannes Festival, when it was withdrawn by request of the German government, who thought it could hinder the reconciliation process at the time. But after a debate in the German parliament in April of that same year, it was decided that it should be used an educational tool and 200 copies were made to be distributed for educational purposes. Three years later, on 26 April 1959, the film was shown on French television.

The talk was followed by a screening of the film. Silence befell the audience, broken by the occasional gasp of horror, such is the power of the imagery. Resnais used the grass in Auschwitz as a metaphor for memory and a voiceover written by the poet Jean Cayrol, himself a non-Jewish Holocaust who had published the book Poems of Night and Fog back in 1945. Despite the long-standing grudge that the film never mentions the word Jew, Night and Fog has to be one the most powerful essays on the inexplicability and banality of evil.

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