DVD: 'Night & Fog' & 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' (Alain Resnais)

| July 22, 2011 | Comments (0)

Alain Resnais is one of the most famous French filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague period; but while a revolutionary in his own right, his films are too stylistically different to be considered a real part of that movement.

As part of an upcoming retrospective of the 89-year-old director’s work at the BFI, Optimum have re-released two of his most famous works on DVD.

Night & Fog

Resnais’s first films were documentaries, and none has been more influential or important as Night & Fog. Made just 10 years after the end of World War II, this documentary was one of the first to dare to explore the terrible history and impact of the Holocaust.

Brevity is not something we associate with films about the Holocaust. Schindler’s List and The Pianist both run at over 150 minutes, while Shoah, the most famous of all Holocaust documentaries, is an exhausting 10 hours. Night & Fog, however, is just half an hour long, but loses none of its emotional punch in the process.

Juxtaposing black and white newsreel footage of the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust with contemporary colour footage of deserted, weed-infested concentration camps 10 years after the war’s end, the film relies on the power of this imagery and a pensive, sorrowful voiceover that lays out the monstrous facts and figures.

The film raises questions not about how this was allowed to happen, but about how we deal with the reality that it did. Any road in any town can lead to a concentration camp, Night & Fog reminds us, challenging us to never forget. Eschewing interviews with those who experienced (or assisted) in the genocide, the only ‘survivors’ on film are the structures of Auschwitz – discussed as much in terms of their architectural design as in the horrors that went on within them.

Harrowing, but brief, Night & Fog should be seen by anyone who is unwilling to study the Holocaust in depth. It reminds us, not that the Holocaust happened, but that it is still with us – the buildings remain, the survivors live on, the dead remain the dead.

Resnais’s first feature film came four years later, and came as a reaction to requests to make a similar documentary to Night & Fog about the atomic bomb.

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Hiroshima Mon Amour starts out in a very similar manner to his documentary work. The first 10 minutes consist of the film’s heroine, played hauntingly by Emmanuelle Riva, narrating what she saw on a visit to Hiroshima and is unable to forget. Documentary images of the aftermath of the bombing – some just as agonising to behold as those in Night & Fog – accompany this introduction, not to force the film in a preachy direction, but to set a background to the film that its protagonists cannot escape.

The story opens on our unnamed heroine, a French actress shooting a film ‘about peace’ in the city, engaged in a brief affair with a Japanese man, played by a stern Eiji Okada. In a style more familiar to audiences now from Richard Linklater’s Before… films, Hiroshima… follows the passionate couple’s conversations in the last hours before they must part; she returning to her homeland, he returning to his wife.

The pair discusses their pasts and presents – the shadow of the war and the mushroom cloud ever present – with the conversation always returning to the heroine’s first love, a German soldier she loved, and was punished cruelly for loving, during the war.

Beautifully shot, the film frames the couple as inseparable and yet torn asunder. At times their bodies are so coiled together you can hardly tell where one begins and the other ends; at others they stand distant, aware of the impossibility of their love. In one scene the couple continue their hopeless debate sitting on a bench on either side of an elderly Japanese woman – the elderly woman eavesdrops despite the language barrier, another sign that the history of this city and the culture clash will always come between them.

Featuring a score that surprisingly blends Western and Eastern music, the film also highlights the clash of cultures in its visuals – the gaudy neon of rebuilt Hiroshima contrasts dramatically with flashbacks to the French town of Nevers (the location filming was shot by two different cinematographers, and it shows).

Slow and pensive, Hiroshima demonstrates all of the skills that would go into Resnais’s greatest work, Last Year at Marienbad, two years later, and yet remains a groundbreaking classic in its own right. A love story for those who have felt passion but not known if they could ever act on it.

David Neary

Night & Fog and Hiroshima Mon Amour are released on DVD  on 25th July

 

Night & Fog

  • Format: PAL
  • Language French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 2
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 25th July 2011

Hiroshima Mon Amour

  • Format: PAL
  • Language French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 2
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 12
  • Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 25th July 2011
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