Hiroshima mon amour

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Three weeks before Alain Resnais died this past March, he had premiered his newest film, Life of Riley, at the Berlin Film Festival, which he completed at the age of 91. Resnais enjoyed a uniquely prolific streak of filmmaking in his later years that laughed at the prospect of retirement or death. For a moment it seemed possible that Resnais himself would continue to exist as ceaselessly as the memories that preoccupy his characters; thankfully, with his incredible body of work, Resnais is etched into eternity. Resnais continued to experiment with the limits of cinematic form over fifty years after his career-defining work on Night and Fog, Hiroshima mon amour, and Last Year in Marienbad. The past decade of his career proved that age is no excuse for artistic resignation or repetition – while not nearly as well-known, more recent works including Private Fears in Public Places, Wild Grass, and You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet! challenged the medium with as much audacity and confidence as his canonical earlier works. Debating the status of “reality” in Last Year in Marienbad is one thing; explaining the ending of Wild Grass is another matter entirely. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a mind that always exists in both the past and present.

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Police burst into a beautiful Parisian apartment to discover a semi-decomposed elderly woman’s body, arranged painstakingly on her bed, surrounded by flowers. There is duck tape around her bedroom door, preventing the smell from coming into the rest of the apartment. Cut to the woman – alive – coming back home with her husband from a concert. How did this become her heartbreaking end? In Michael Haneke’s beautifully unflinching Palme d’Or winner Amour, he circles back to this opening scene as he tells the story of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and how Anne’s debilitating illness tests the parameters of their love for each other. Amour is a great feat in filmmaking, as its near-perfect direction and performances go to emotive depths very rarely achieved onscreen. Anne and George are vibrant, retired music teachers somewhat estranged from their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who lives in England with her philandering husband. One morning, Anne prepares Georges a boiled egg for breakfast. She serves it to him, sits at the table, and then suddenly goes blank. She is completely unresponsive to her pleading husband, but as he rushes into his bedroom to start getting help, he hears the running water turn off. When he returns to the kitchen, Anne is just like her normal self and has no recollection of the episode. All seems fine until minutes later when Anne can no longer pour a cup of tea.

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Criterion Files

Alain Resnais is one my favorite filmmakers, and it’s largely because of his early work. Between Night and Fog (1955), Hiroshima mon amour (1959), and this week’s film, Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Resnais’ late 50s-early 60s work represents a sort of trilogy meditating on the themes of trauma and memory. While these first two films address these subjects specifically in regard to resonating painful memories of WWII (the subject of Night and Fog being concentration camps, and Hiroshima mon amour clearly being Hiroshima), Marienbad’s narrative avenue towards this subject isn’t rooted in globally relevant history. Rather, Last Year at Marienbad switches gears to tell a story of memory loss between two socialites at a baroque hotel, one of whom (the man, played by Girgio Albertazzi) remembers a brief but passionate affair from the previous year, while the other (the woman, played by Delphine Seyrig) doesn’t.

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This week, Landon uses a trip to the bar to watch the World Cup as a catalyst for discussing nationality (and a lack of it) in films throughout the last 60 years – culminating in a look of the broad, international flavor (and financing) of modern films.

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This week’s Culture Warrior helps you fill out your Netflix queue.

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