…raised to many powers. Not in the distant Congo, but rather in the heart of Europe.
I’ve recently been re-viewing many of the movies that I’ve seen in the movie theaters of my youth. I’ve again watched two of Alain Resnais’ classics: “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” and “Last Year at Marienbad.” I’ve posted my reviews of them on Amazon, so, as is its custom, Amazon suggested this third work of Resnais. Blame it on burnt out synapses, if you will, but I cannot recall if I saw this film previously… but I think I have. It is hard to forget the “bulldozer” clip, which made an impression half a century ago, though it could have been in another film. Since the movie is only 30 minutes long, it was more difficult for a movie theater to show it… too short for a “feature,” too long for a leader.
Resnais brilliantly captured the horror of the Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz. The film is in black and white, shot ten years after the end of World War II. There is the stark contrast between the now peaceful pastoral countryside and the empty buildings, constructed for human disposal. One of the buildings is nominally a “hospital.” In this building horrendous experiments were conducted on the inmates. Simple “disposal” in a gas chamber would have been much more preferable to these tortures.
The director balances views of the empty buildings of today with pictures taken during the war, of the Jews wearing the yellow “Star of David,” and being deported in cattle cars, which were far too crowded, resulting in both madness and death of some of the occupants. Resnais highlights how “nothing was wasted,” and there were rooms full of eyeglasses. In another scene, there is a room full of human hair, which is turned into cloth. Even the bodies themselves become fertilizer.
“I am not responsible.” After the fall of the Third Reich, the refrain denying responsibility for the horror of the camps and the deaths of so many people, was seemingly universal. Resnais includes clips of the “capos,” usually common criminals who were the first echelon bosses in the camps, uttering the first sentence in this paragraph. Ditto for their better dressed bosses. Also included is a clip of the well-dressed wife of the commandant of the camp having tea.
That awful image will always remain with me. So many skeletal bodies, some with gaping holes, piled high, and the implicit threat of the rapid spread of disease that meant that only a bulldozer was the suitable mechanism to be deployed for their burial in a mass grave.
The charge of “racist” is in the common political discourse in the United States today. There is no question that this film provides a none-too-subtle two-by-four to the side of the head as to where very real racism can lead. 5-stars for another excellent movie by Alain Resnais.