Alain Resnais’ 1955 film “Night and Fog” is an examination of repressed memories and deliberate obscuration of the truth.  It captures the nightmarish reality of the Holocaust while inviting the viewer to reflect on the responsibility of remembrance. Through juxtaposition and deliberately structured narration, this film assists the audience in grasping a dismal reflection of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime. One of the main film strategies is the alternation between temporal realities. Resnais indicates the present reality in color film and the past with black and white archival footage. The juxtaposition between the two allows the audience to experience parallel perspectives. He begins the film in the present, ostensibly detached from the terrors of Auschwitz, regarding the viewer as nonpartisan. He pans from left to right to reveal a watchtower at the edge of the frame and positions us between two barbed wire fences converging toward the tower, subtly trapping us inside an inescapable encounter. The use of tracking shots provides a subjective view of the camp, fashioning a comprehensive mental world for the viewer, linking the present to the past, and suggesting that the still standing architecture represents that “war is merely asleep right now, rather than finished.” Later on, the tracking shots doubly serve as a time for the audience to reflect on the ghastly historical footage they observe. The effect of straight cuts to archival footage not only serves to jolt the consciousness of the viewer, but sets up the narrator to explicitly address the audience about awareness of their responsibility when confronted with such knowledge.  The placement of the archival footage within the film’s sequence associates our memories of the present shots to the horrific images of the past, conveying how the passing of time coincides with our difficulty relating to the Holocaust as a historical event. Similar to “Night and Fog,” Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah”(1985) attempts a “documentary-style” approach at presenting the horrors of the Holocaust in a manner that collapses the distinction between past and present. The original title when working on the film was “the place and the word,” a phrase referring to his method of approach. One of the key techniques Lanzmann uses to signify this is the absence historical footage. In place of historical footage, Lanzmann relies on the testimonies, “the word”, of Holocaust survivors in conjunction with indexical traces that range from Nazi-era documents to various locations, “the place” . He seeks to remove the mythological histories formed by dramatizations of the past by using these traces to tell stories about themselves. In an effort to bring the past to the present, “Shoah” reanimates these traces as the circumstances that caused this historical whirlwind instead of “re-membering” pieces of history using archival footage and fitting them into an independent narrative. Lanzmann provides evidence of this in the sequence surrounding Simon Srebnik in Chelmno. The sequence begins with a printed narration of about the past. It details the story of a young boy imprisoned at a Polish death camp, how the saccharine melodies of his singing kept him alive, and how he astonishingly flees from certain death. The end titles bring us to the present day Srebnik at 47 years old, revisiting the site of the camp. By transitioning to footage of Srebnik on the boat, essentially removing his story from the past, Lanzmann is able to showcase chilling elements excluded from the narratives constructed by people who remember little Srebnik’s sweet songs about a little white house. We see that the concealed antisemitism that caused the holocaust still runs rampant. People recount the throat cutting gesture used to “warn” the Jews with callous smirks and broast about how they still use properties taken from the Jews. What began as a scene of sentiment and nostalgia transforms into nightmarish memories, a conscious effort by Lazmann to de-dramatize the past by bringing it uncomfortably close to the present.

Author