Lower the camera and the pastoral sprawl is suddenly tangled in barbed wire, memory and cinema are like that. How does one contemplate something like the Holocaust? Tracking shots give modern glimpses of sun-dappled ruins while flickering black-and-white newsreels and stills depict life and death in concentration camps, the tranquil horror of contrasts. "The machine gets under way." Grass now grows on railroad tracks, not long ago the boxcars were used for corralling human beings. (A Vichy soldier watches the deportation, his cap obscured in an attempt at censoring a film about culpability.) The two eponymous elements welcome the prisoners at the gates, part of the "nocturnal extravaganzas" favored by the Nazi. "First impression: The camp is another planet." A society built on the institutionalization of degeneracy, cataloged from top to bottom by the matter-of-fact dismay of Jean Cayrolís text. The kommandant and the kapo, the factory and the brothel, the mirage of a world beyond the fences. The hospital is a hollow faÁade, the clinic might be Moreauís House of Pain. "Extermination must be productive," says Himmler. "No image, no description can capture the true dimension," but Alain Resnais can still confront and remember -- his restless camera ponders the scratch marks on the gas chamberís ceiling, then peers into a rusted oven as if gazing inside an exhausted Molochís maw. Mountains of hair and bowls of decapitated heads; "je ne suis pas responsible" is the byword at Nuremberg. The greatest of Resnaisí early shorts, a haunted litany about unspeakable events barely a decade old, the madness of history and the sin of forgetfulness. Cinematography by Sacha Vierny and Ghislain Cloquet. Music by Hanns Eisler.
--- Fernando F. Croce