A lyrical documentary about the Bibliothèque Nationale made for the French Foreign Ministry, Memory reveals the behind-the-scenes activities of the library, following a book from its arrival in the vast institution to its placement on the shelf – a “prisoner” until it is checked out. Resnais investigates the idea of libraries as collective memory aids, a hedge against universal forgetting, with the books and librarians acting as agents in the “slow battle against death.”
Foreshadowing both Night and Fog and Hiroshima mon amour in its innovative form and unflinching content, Guernica uses Picasso’s famous painting as a point of entry to explore the destructive barbarity of war and the resilience of man, editing sections of the painting and other works by Picasso together with photographs of the destroyed city and newspaper headlines, all played over a lyrical narrative written by poet Paul Éluard. The rapid, disorienting editing, dissonant music track and fragmented imagery mirror the tenets of cubism while vividly evoking the physical and psychological toll of war.
This collaboration between Resnais and Chris Marker begins as an examination of African statues that raises questions about their status and presentation in European museums and ultimately becomes an indictment of the history and effects of colonialism and racism. Because Resnais refused to sanction the censored version originally planned for release, the film has only recently become available.
A commission to mark the tenth anniversary of the liberation of the German concentration camps by the Allied forces, Resnais’ famous landmark documentary remains the most powerful condemnation of the Nazi camps to emerge from the postwar era. Combining color tracking shots of postwar Auschwitz with black and white archival photographs and footage of prisoners in the death camps, Resnais draws inexorable links between the past and the present while the film’s chillingly understated narrative – written by concentration camp survivor Jean Cayrol –asks searching questions about accountability and the suppression of truth.