From the films we’ve watched and the books we’ve read, we perceive to know the real horrors of war. Think of what you know of the Nazi’s Final Solution, and it is likely that the visual memories of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, or the haunting words of Anne Frank, are what initially come to mind. But only a select few from the post-war generations have ever really seen the true barbarism of what the Nazi’s did behind the wire fences of their Concentration Camps. For that reason, Night Will Fall is not only an important documentary; it’s a necessary one.
The original recordings we see here were part of documentation filmed during the dying days of the Second World War. It was for a film entitled German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, which collaborated footage shot by soldiers on the ground as they stormed through Germany and liberated camps from their Nazi rule. The men were told by movie producer Sidney Bernstein to “film everything”, in order to “prove one day that this actually happened”.
Unfortunately, despite Alfred Hitchcock playing a role in the creative process, the film was shelved before it was completed, suppressed by the political powers that were, and then all but forgotten. But now, 70 years later, thanks to The Imperial War Museum, the horrific reality of what was discovered by the allied troops can finally be seen.
Andre Singer’s documentary sets out to achieve two objectives; it wants to present the audience with as much of the raw footage as is possible, and explore the history behind the making and subsequent abandonment of the original film. On the first count, it is wholly successful.
Singer is no stranger to such potent material, having worked as an executive producer on last year’s The Act Of Killing. Here he shows superb fortitude in the director’s chair. What we see is nothing short of horrifying, a selection of clips that show the brutal and callous truth of how the Nazis treated those imprisoned in Concentration Camps. It’s indescribably upsetting to witness, an eye-opening shock to the system that’s impossible to quell.
Singer knows that the imagery speaks for itself and what it represents. He admirably presents the tapes in the exact form they were filmed. No music is added in order to produce a greater emotional impact, there simply is no need; in fact, if anything, it could belittle the film’s overall impact.
Singer is keen however, to add greater depth and detail to what is being shown, which he achieves through various testimonies from those who filmed the footage and who survived life in the camps. Juxtaposing the two together, the director vividly paints a portrait of the appalling suffering felt by Jews at the merciless hands of those ordered to exterminate them.
So encompassing is the material, that any attempt to tell the story of how and why the film eventually came to be blocked by various governments almost feels distracting. Glossed over too quickly to embody a similarly substantial impact. Indeed, one couldn’t help but feel that this side to the story could have done with being fleshed out over the course of a second film.
But this is a minute problem when you consider the film as a whole. It ends with an extended clip from Bernstein’s film, which comes complete with the original voiceover that will chillingly remind you of the horrors we continue to see in war-torn countries across the world today. The feelings of pain and despair it will build inside of you are likely to haunt you for many of the nights that follow.