The 1956 film Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog) is a thirty-minute long documentary film that serves as a reminder for the viewer about the horrific genocide that occurred in the concentration camps that were built during World War II. Using archive footage from the war, post-war footage (circa 1954), and photographs, along with the use of music and descriptively written narration, the viewer is able to perceive the events during and after the war through the perspective of an unseen narrator.
What is appealing about the film is how the mood is set by the tone of the music that is played and the information is relayed by the descriptions spoken by the narrator. During the first three minutes of the film, the music is building a momentum with a drumming tempo that sets a worrisome tempo as the narrator is describing the deserted campsites. With a quick drum rattle that is reminiscent of a war drum the viewer is thrust into the midst of Hitler’s arrival in Nuremberg, Germany as thousands of his supporters are thrilled to bear witness to momentous occasion. The music’s building momentum has served as an audible transition from the footage of the post-war era to the start of World War II.
The music sets a tense mood for the viewer with the use harp strings being plucked, the higher notes being played on a viola, and accented with an occasional snare drum rattle. The music alters the viewer’s perception of the situation by invoking the sense of tension in lieu of the joyous celebration that many German citizens were feeling during the original Nuremberg convention.
The same tense feeling is experienced by the viewer a few minutes later during scene when several Jewish families are deported on trains and transported to the campgrounds. The music underscores the situation with a dramatic effect with the use of several instruments that can hit low octaves with a somber melody. Very little is spoken during these moments for the music is defining the mood very well, while the narration is intended as a tool to fill in the information that cannot be portrayed with the use of music or film.
The film has been embedded below for anyone to view, but I must offer a warning that some of the archive footage is rather disturbing to watch. Pay attention to the intriguing use of sound editing, musical composition, and written narration that evokes the imagination of the viewer.
To learn more about the global response from the documentary upon its release, check out the following book: “Uncovering the Holocaust: The International Reception of Night and Fog” by Ewout van der Knaap (Amazon). The documentary is also available for purchase on Criterion Collection Blu-ray.