It makes an indirect, muted yet clear and heart felt statement on a matter which remains of the highest concern. No less alarming than nuclear weapons is the fact that somewhere down the lane, the human heart has been submerged.The style is subjective, reaching it's fullness in the yet to come Last Year in Marienbad.
This is about an affair between a Japanese architect and a French nurse and another between the same woman and a German officer in he past.The current affair takes place in Hiroshima. The structure is non chronological and the narration jumps from past to present--the two day ongoing romance, memories of the atom bomb, and the trauma laden older affair in the beautiful French countryside .
The original intention of the film maker was to make a film about the aftermath of the bomb, but finding it too big a topic to deal head-on, he has approached it obliquely through the lens of a foreigner's eye, tinged with her individual unusual war experience. She has a fixation about Hiroshima which is responsible for her taking an assignment in Japan and her affair with the Japanese man. Who is the enemy and who is a friend?
What the director succeeds in doing is to give an authentic glimps of a nuclear holocaust--a cameo, as it were--framed by a relatively humdrum romance in the setting of the reconstructed city, with it's atom bomb museum and the prominent Atom-bomb dome.
The same director has done a parallel short ( 30 minutes or so ) film-essay on the Holocaust titled Nuit et Brouillard or Night and Fog. His movies treat time as the mind sees it. The mind seems to perceive the three entities of past, present and future as one and cinema gives an opportunity to portray the invisible workings of the mind on a flat screen, visibly. The present film is in that a pre-cursor of Marienbad. To quote from the linked essay by Kent Jones:
Anatole Dauman, one of the film’s producers, told Resnais, “I’ve seen all this before, in Citizen Kane, a film which breaks chronology and reverses the flow of time.” To which Resnais replied, “Yes, but in my film time is shattered.”
The critic Pauline Kael is said to have remarked that the film collapses into soap opera. However, by entwining these three threads each telling a story of it's own kind situated at the vertices of triangular time, Alan Resnais succeeds in his intention of touching our heart about the unspeakability of war.
We glimpse the nuclear inferno fleetingly as though through a crack in a wall, or like a dark landscape momentarily illuminated by a flash of lightening, but that glimpse is etched on the mind, as on a camera film. His mildness of tone and understated approach in no way trivialises the past.
And that is what I liked.
Essay by Kent Jones