Nuit et Brouillard by Alain Resnais, 1966

The photo was taken at the camp of Pithiviers, in the Loiret department, one of two main concentration camps for foreign-born Jews in France. At the foreground, unmistakably guarding the camp was a French gendarme, with a telltale kepi. If an image could ever perfectly encapsulated the culpability of the Vichy Government in persecution of the French Jewry, this was it.

But in 1955, it was too close for comfort, coming as it did after many long and arduous years when numerous ministers and prominent citizens were hauled in front of courts and tribunals. First featured in the documentary Nuit et Brouillard, the anonymously-taken photo was an unequivocal denunciation of French collaborationism, and the censors demanded that the kepi be cut. Director Alain Resnais first refused but the censors threatened to cut the last ten minutes of his film. In compromise, Resnais obscured the contested scene in exchange for being allowed to show the bodies of victims at the end of the film.

Director Alain Resnais put a beam across the damning hat to hide it.

A few months later, the Germans demanded the film withdrawn from Cannes Film Festival. With the Federal Republic about to enter NATO as a full partner and the Treaty of Rome being negotiated, the film was thought to be harmful to West Germany’s relations with other states. In the words of the official protest it “would disturb the international harmony of the festival by its emphatic reminder of the painful past.” The French government duly complied and the film was withdrawn. Unlike the censorship of the kepi which went virtually unnoticed and mentioned only once in press, the French press reacted bitterly against the withdrawal, noting that the filmmakers were very cautious in defining the difference between the Nazi criminals and the German people.

Resnais himself acerbically griped: “Naturally I hadn’t realized that the National Socialist regime would be represented at Cannes. But now, of course, I do.” In retaliation, the predominantly French selection committee at Cannes asked Germany’s own submission Himmel ohne sterne to be withdraw and the Germans left Cannes in protest. Widespread protests from deportees’ associations, members of the Résistance and the Communist Party as well as the threat from the Festival organizers to resign finally forced the government to give in. The film was staged ‘outside the programme’ in the main Festival Hall auditorium, where it received a standing ovation. The Berlinale invited Resnais to stage his film there, defying its own government.

In a way, the controversy over Nuit et Brouillard altered Cannes’ history too. In that monumental year for self-inflicted censorship, films from Britain, Finland, Poland, Norway and Yugoslavia were also excluded. This debacle encouraged the organizers to reshape the Festival in accordance with cinematographic quality rather than diplomatic niceties.

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0 thoughts on “Nuit et Brouillard by Alain Resnais, 1966

  1. You seem to be well informed about Cannes festival in 1955. Do you have any idea what finnish film was taken off from competition then? I try to google myself, but did not found the answer. Most notable film then was Unkwon soldier? If that, do you have any knowledge, why it did not make the competition?

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