Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hiroshima Mon Amour 1959

Director: Alan Resnais; language:French; duration: 91 minutes

Ultimately, a film review is about whether you liked something or not, and, if you did, what it was that you liked. If  I don't like a film I would probably not end up seeing the whole of it, and even if I did, it is best forgotten rather than writing about it. This one is definitely worth seeing.

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


Paul J. Marasa said...

I don't have to tell you that there are too many films to see--and even the ones worth seeing can slip away. So I wanted to thank you for your piece on Hiroshima mon amour--a film I last saw in the '70s, when the Public Broadcasting System for a while was showing many Janus films (essentially today the Criterion Collection), and I was lucky in a pre-VCR world to see many seminal international films.

But I had forgotten this one as I was planning my film list for The Book; but Hiroshima ... is now on the roster for 1960 (when it had a U.S. release).

And you're right: It is not mere "soap opera"; it needed to use the woven-plot structure of a soap opera--and the on-the-edge emotions/experiences of same--to tell a holocaust tale.

Plum said...

This film is one of the first french films ive ever seen and i have to say i was so confused by the new wave. i like it a lot more now, so maybe i should go back and watch hiroshima mon amour, but at the time, i just thought to myself, what is going ON!?!?!?!!?!?!!?

Don't Be a Plum

S. M. Rana said...

Dear Plum

What's going on is the director's effort to understand and convey what it must have been really been like when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. It's easy to talk but difficult to really grasp the enormity of it.

There is a kind of brief cameo of the city on fire and people on fire rushing towards the river.

The rest of the movie is like the elaborate packing of a precious piece of jewellery.

All the best.