Alain Resnais's short, lasting a mere 31 minutes, is justifably famous as the first film to explore the Holocaust after the Second World War (it was released in 1955). More than just a depiction of the events, the film primarily concerned with the filmmaker's inability to convey the historical reality of the event. The colorful scenes Resnais shot of the abandoned camps are contrasted with horrific black-and-white images of Nazi brutality - decapitated skulls gathered in a bucket, a mountain of womens' hair, the living skeletons of the newly-liberated camps - and Resnais asks himself (and us): how can we possibly comprehend, in the safety of being a spectator, the immeasurable inhumanity and suffering of this event? What would it profit us or history as a whole even if we could? Would it really prevent human atrocities from recurring?
The film is best seen as a philosophical exploration rather than a history lesson - indeed, if you don't know at least the key events of the Nazi Regime, you'll find Resnais' elisions confusing. It is still a potent and unsettling film and, within its mere 31 minutes, opened up questions about artistic responsibility and representation that persist today about the Holocaust and other filmed depictions of human atrocities.