To my knowledge; I have never seen an Alain Resnais film – a filmmaker who has a weighty reputation within the French New Wave. I suppose I have to start somewhere, so beginning with his first feature, Hiroshima mon amour (1959), seems conducive.
The film opens with a close-up of entwined limbs, disembodied voices accompany the body parts which glisten with perspiration then are covered with atomic ash and glitter. It’s an evocative image which serves as a haunting reminder of the bomb. The score (composed by Georges Delerue and Giovanni Fusco) is affecting, particularly the inclusion of a flute but then the addition of a piano accompaniment adds a jauntiness which is at odds with the next slew of images: petrified rocks, specimens of skin, hair, footage recollecting the devastation; people writhing in pain and bloodied. It seems almost inexplicable to set a love story against this desolate and damaging backdrop, and yet when dealt with the passage of time and evocation of memory, it makes perfect sense. Like a Phoenix rising from flames, life and hope must continue and the ‘new’ Hiroshima is slowly being rebuilt and appears thriving as the Architect (Eiji Okada) and the Actress (Emmanuelle Riva) fall in love.
The passage of time and power of memory are strong themes throughout Marguerite Duras’ oblique script and the juxtaposition of her poetic dialogue alongside the images of horror is highly emotive. The non-linear narrative with its use of flashbacks, ellipses, and jump cuts must have been particularly original in ’59 and clearly influential as they continue to be used today. The repetition of history and the atrocity of genocide with the emphatic nuances of love in Riva’s performance are quite stunning; personal pain, public humiliation and the beautiful mesmeric shots of Sacha Vierny’s cinematography make for a quietly devastating film about the human condition and lost love. Having viewed it at a time when it would be appreciated, the melancholic beauty of Hiroshima mon amour leaves a lasting impression.
Note to self: must make the rest of the Resnais oeuvre a priority.