director Alain Resnais
Last Year at Marienbad is a film that has been recommended many times and over many years and has long stood in my queue. That I finally got around to watching it is in part with my march through many of the “great” films by “great” directors that I’ve never seen, a very apt one, in that I’d never seen any of director Alain Resnais’s films, not even Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) nor this one. And sadly, the director died at age 91 a few days before I finally saw one of his films, oddly enough the day of the Oscars.
The film surprised me, mainly because I wasn’t aware of what its nature was, how avant-garde, if you will, the film was. I see that it’s considered a work of Surrealism and I have to say that is certainly as aspect of what jumped to mind as I watched it. It’s one of those films that no simple description does fair justice.
It opens with a recurring voice over motif that fades in and out, as the camera looks over the ornate details of a Baroque hotel interior. If you didn’t know that you were in for an art film when you sat down, you quickly realize that you need an open mind and open thought process to comprehend what will unfold.
There is a man and a woman. A man who is trying to respark a memory through suggestions and words, of a meeting beforehand. And the woman has a husband, an eerie figure, who is a master at games and is shown firing a gun. What the film is ultimately about seems to long have been open to debate. Like what is the “real” story beneath the storytelling? What “really” happened? What is the “truth”?
It’s Surreal, yes, and Impressionistic, too, or stream-of-consciousness, or stream-of-subconscious. It’s a dream. A nightmare.
Things that came to my mind, my impressions, if you will:
Jean-Luc Godard and his breaks against traditional cinematic techniques. Far more controlled and less happenstance is the feeling but the intentionality of jarring use of music, of acting, pushing the viewer out of traditional narrative techniques, and disruption. Though very different indeed.
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). The way the camera tracks through the halls of a great hotel, the ghostly dislocated camera. Kubrick HAD to have seen this and this HAD to be an influence, right?
David Lynch. No film in particular.
I don’t know. Many things came to mind, images from shots in the garden evoked paintings of Giorgio de Chirico.
Such a strange, dark film. Not what I was anticipating, not that I know what I anticipated. Quite remarkable.