A teardrop on the cheek of time. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s film about the camps Le Retour
One of the most moving documents of human agony and joy to emerge from World War II, Le Retour follows the liberation and homeward journey of French prisoners from Nazi concentration camps from April to July 1945. From their disbelieving, sunken faces to the hospital recoveries and finally to their journey home by foot, truck, and plane, the camera captures their profound expressions of fear, anticipation and bliss. Confrontations at the border checks, the U.S. airlift over France, and the tentative smiles on the men’s faces as they arrive by train and watch for familiar faces are rendered unforgettably by Cartier-Bresson’s adroit camera. By concentrating on this single event, he has said more about the separation and destruction of war than hours of combat footage. ‘In the face of great catastrophe and human tragedy’, says film historian Richard Barsam, ‘the artist is often mute; in reflection he finds that simplicity is the only technique by which to capture the magnitude of the events before him. Cartier-Bresson is such an artist.