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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • French PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Excerpts of audio interviews with Alain Resnais from Le Cin
  • New interview with documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer
  • Face aux fantŰmes, a 99-minute 2009 documentary featuring historian Sylvie Lindeperg that explores the French memory of the Holocaust and the controversy surrounding the filmís release
  • Insert featuring an essay by film scholar Colin MacCabe

Night and Fog

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Alain Resnais
1955 | 31 Minutes | Licensor: Argos Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #197
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: July 19, 2016
Review Date: July 10, 2016

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SYNOPSIS

Ten years after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, filmmaker Alain Resnais documented the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz and Majdanek in Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard), one of the first cinematic reflections on the Holocaust. Juxtaposing the stillness of the abandoned campsí empty buildings with haunting wartime footage, Resnais investigates the cyclical nature of humanityís violence against humanity, and presents the devastating suggestion that such horrors could occur again.


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection reissues Alain Resnaisí short film Night and Fog on Blu-ray, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this dual-layer disc. This new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration scanned from the original negative.

This upgrade is a bit of a surprise for me: originally a budget release on DVD of a 32-minute film, it didnít seem like something Criterion would bother upgrading on the format unless they paired it with something else. Because of this I was actually content with Criterionís DVD, which, despite a few problems, still looked decent upscaled, but Iím thankful they did because, wow, the improvements this presentation offers are extraordinary.

The opening panning shot of the buildings in the camp right off show the improvements of the image. Though sharp on the DVD, here you can clearly make out every brick and stone on each building. The improvement in clarity is really extraordinary, and every shot and piece of footage, even the archival footage, offers new details I hadnít noticed before, even textures, which I think the DVD rendered rather well all things considered, look mare natural and life like here. Colours look a bit better, though still muted (and I think a little warmer here in comparison to the DVDís colours), while the black and white portions offer better tonal shifts and black levels.

The restoration work has also been more thorough. The archival footage has been pretty much left alone and still shows damage like dirt, scratches, and tram lines (this was according to Resnaisí wishes), but the new colour footage along with the new black and white footage has been cleaned up a bit more extensively, some minor bits of dirt remaining in places. The mild pulse that was present on the DVD is now gone, and one odd artifact from the DVD is also gone. This latter artifact was related to a photograph that Resnais used in the film and came under fire for. When showing photographs and footage depicting the deportations to the camps, one photo clearly shows a French police officer in the foreground, showing him as a participant. This upset the French censors (not surprisingly) and they wanted Resnais to remove it. He refused though eventually agreed to cover the policemanís cap, which was really the only identifying feature.

For the DVD Iím guessing the source used for that restoration, an interpositive, still had the erased police cap, and Criterion, or whoever did the restoration, chose to insert a digital still of this photo, with the cap visible, restoring Resnaisí initial vision. This is all well and good, but what happened is that it was obviously something outside the film. Throughout the film, on the DVD, you could make out a slight pulse and the dancing grain, but then during this one short shot the grain and pulse disappeared, the image becoming incredibly still, and this stood out from the rest of the presentation, looking really odd, and it was just this one shot (so thatís why Iím guessing the image was digitally inserted). That odd artifact is now gone and the image cleanly fits in with the rest of the film, Iím guessing because it was part of the original negative and was untouched. The entire picture now looks very much like a projected film. Itís a superb looking restoration.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless French PCM 1.0 mono track sounds a bit cleaner and sharper in comparison to the DVD, though itís a quiet, reflective film, so doesnít show off in any way. Still, the music is sharp and clean, never coming off edgy, and the restoration work has been pretty thorough.

The previous DVD came with an isolated score track, but that track is missing from this edition.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

The previous DVD was a budget release (only $14.95 MSRP) with only one significant feature. Criterion has priced this edition at the standard $39.95, which I admittedly question (again, the film is only 32-minutes long), but at least they offer a few more supplements.

They do carry over the previous editionís short 5-minute audio excerpt taken from an interview with Alain Resnais, conducted on the program Les ťtoiles du cinema. Here Resnais quickly discusses how the film came about, his initial hesitation in doing it and issues that came about after it was finished, from being told it wouldnít be released because of the graphic content, to issues with the censor around that one photo featuring a French policeman. Resnais says he eventually just blotted out the distinctive hat to make it less obvious (as mentioned above, this has been restored). Itís brief, but getting Resnaisí firsthand account on making the film makes it of great value.

Criterion next includes a new interview with director Joshua Oppenheimer sharing his thoughts on the film. He touches on how Resnaisí fascination with memory plays here, as well as how he ties the past and present with the use of colour photography and black and white photography. He also admires Resnaisí ability to make us ask questions with his images without explicitly asking them (whether it be ďwhy would anyone film this stuff?Ē or ďdo we have any clothing made from that fabric somewhere?Ē)

At 15-minutes itís a decent enough examination of the film, but a better feature for this is the 99-minute, 2009 documentary Face aux fantŰmes, featuring Sylvie Lindeperg talking about the years following the end of the war in France, and how historians were trying to decipher (and find ways to preserve) what happened during the holocaust. Olga Wormser and Henri Michel were two prominent figures and they are the ones that came up with the idea to make what would eventually become Resnaisí Night and Fog when they felt other films either didnít hit the message home, or were fictional films that fictionalized the events too much, although their intentions, or at least Michelís, differed from the final product. Lindeperg from here then talks about the footage Resnais dug up and the importance in how Resnais arranged this footage, with his newly filmed footage of the camps (which was now a museum), in conveying the message, which ultimately is more a warning that this could happen again. She plays back audio recordings from an interview with Resnais and others, going over intentions and reactions, and she even talks about the various controversies that popped up, from the photo of the police man to the fact the word ďJewĒ is only mentioned once to the West Germanís freaking out when the film was submitted to Cannes (and then pulled). Thereís even a small section where she looks at the subtle translation differences between the German and French versions of the film.

Itís an incredibly insightful and well researched piece that adds a lot of great value to this release, particularly when she deconstructs how carefully constructed images, and not necessarily actual footage, can better convey what happened. But, having said that, itís probably one of the most static, uninteresting looking film of its type. Most of the film is, unfortunately, Lindeperg just sitting there talking, the camera shifting once in a while as if the filmmakers were like ďoops! Maybe we should try to make this visually interesting.Ē Other participants appear briefly, and we get clips and shots of documents and other footage, but most of the film is really just Lindeperg sitting there talking. Again, this feature is jam packed with great material on Night and Fog and the reactions and mood in France after the war, but it really is a tediously put together piece.

The included insert then features an essay by Colin MacCabe, who basically compresses all of the material by various authors found in the previous DVDís insert (he even opens his essay in the same way that Phillip Lopate did in his, mentioning Truffautís reaction to the film). He summarizes how Resnais became involved in the film and the struggles he had getting the film released after finishing it. He also addresses some of the various criticisms thrown at the film over the years. His piece closes the set off rather nicely.

As mentioned in the audio portion of the review an isolated score has not been carried over from the DVD. Also missing were brief crew profiles, text notes going over the people behind the filmís production. Neither is really a big loss.

Ultimately itís a more satisfying special edition than the previous DVD, the documentary (despite its unimaginative construction) being an especially fine addition. I took a lot away from the material and felt satisfied with it.

7/10

CLOSING

I do question the standard price point for a 32-minute film, but Criterion at least offers a couple of hoursí worth of special features that manage to add a good amount of value to it. Taking that into account and then the new restoration, which vastly improves over the previous DVD, and the release still comes with a strong recommendation.


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