A German composer, who was deported from the United States seven years earlier for being, as one right-wing politician put it, “the Karl Marx of music,” is hired by a French director to score a documentary film about the Holocaust. From Paris, he writes home to his wife in East Berlin: “The film is grandiose, horrible, showing monstrous crimes ... regrettably, the film people here are putting me under pressure to finish the whole thing in ten days even though the film is barely finished. I hope I can get it all together.” Amazingly, he does. When it comes time to record the score, the director and the 32 assembled musicians are astonished by the composer’s approach. As they watch one particularly gruesome sequence –the film is projected during the recording process so that image and sound can be perfectly synchronized—everyone expects the composer to call for an all-out effort by the entire orchestra. “No,” he says, “this is a small piece. We’ve got one flute, one clarinet, and that’s all.” An uneasiness pervades the recording studio as the director and musicians realize that the usual rules are no longer valid.
(Hanns Eisler, Alain Resnais)