Alain Resnais, a French filmmaker who directed a riveting early documentary about Nazi concentration camps and whose later films “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and “Last Year at Marienbad” melded opulent, baroque imagery with complicated narratives that could be as puzzling as they were compelling, died March 1 in Paris. He was 91.
Mr. Resnais, a major figure in international cinema in the 1950s and ’60s, was occasionally linked to the “new wave” of unconventional French filmmakers, including François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.
The new wave is often associated with films that were lyrical, fast-paced, easy to watch and imbued with a cheeky youthfulness. Mr. Resnais developed a different path. As Richard Roud, a co-founder and the first director of the New York Film Festival, put it, a Resnais film was always a “calculated work of art. It is not spontaneous, it is not realistic and it is complex.”
This was true of much of Mr. Resnais’s later work but not of the short documentary with which he established his reputation. Made just a decade after World War II ended, “Nuit et Brouillard” (“Night and Fog”) (1955) is often credited as the first filmic evocation of the Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
A mixture of grisly black-and-white photographs taken during World War II combined with quiet color images of the now-empty camps, the 30-minute film could not be more straightforward and harrowing. Writing in the New York Times in 2000, film critic Stuart Klawans said “Night and Fog” “remains an unsurpassed meditation on the Holocaust.”
The text was written and narrated by the poet and publisher Jean Cayrol, a survivor of the Gusen camp in Austria.
“If one does not forget, one can neither live nor function,” Mr. Resnais told an interviewer in 1966. “The problem arose for me when I was making ‘Nuit et Brouillard.’ It was not a question of making yet another war memorial, but of thinking of the present and the future. Forgetting ought to be constructive.”
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