Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Original Title: Face aux fantômes
This is a highly valuable documentary for anyone who has seen Alain Resnais’ groundbreaking short film Night and Fog. Historian Sylvie Lindeperg wrote a lengthy, investigative tome analyzing not only Resnais’ film but putting it in context of the time that it was released, specifically France’s collective memory of World War II and its own participation in the Holocaust. Night and Fog famously had a shot of a French officer overseeing the deportation of Jews that was ordered to be censored before the film could be released (Resnais basically obscured the officer’s hat with a beam of light, it has since been restored) and it’s one of the many ways that the film reveals a complicated history with the war that Lindeperg is particularly interested in unveiling. Here she is invited by filmmaker Jean-Louis Comolli to discuss the film, her book and her research, talking about her initial looks into the writings of Olga Wormser that provided the foundation for Resnais, who made the film as part of a museum exhibit that Wormser was part of organizing. Early writings on the Holocaust spoke of labour camps and “deportees” who were primarily members of the resistance, it’s not until Wormser’s work and that which followed when France is forced to face the truth about death camps and the anti-Semitism that resulted in the horrors that we know so much about. With her soothing and smart voice, Lindeperg tells us how these images were interpreted at the time versus how they seem now, including her own opinions on Resnais’ editorial choices (such as how she personally defines his revolutionary combining of monochrome and colour footage, which is fascinating) before bringing it all back to Wormser and where her work went after the museum exhibition and book that Night and Fog was a part of. It’s a sober and unfettered film, basically just the author’s interview and footage, but it’s deeply edifying and, for those of us who saw the original film well after most of its footage was quite commonly known in culture, helps us understand just what an impact that film made back when it first came out.