(NOTE: Alain Resnais died earlier this year. To me, that still counts. May he rest in peace, and now let's remember this film):
"Sometimes we have to avoid thinking about the problems life presents. Otherwhise we'd suffocate."
This movie is beautiful, not because it shows a love that can last but
because it shows how fleeting love and life and everything is - that,
and how good it is to hold on to it. The late Joan Rivers said pretty
succinctly once, "life sucks, and if you
don't enjoy every good moment, then you're a fool." The characters in
Hiroshima mon Amour aren't fools. They've been through hell, and they
aren't quite sure how to enjoy the good moments, or if they can. All
they have are memories.
It's interesting to note that in this
film it's not really so much about the man's memories. We find out he's
been in the war, he was fighting in it, but that's it. Maybe Resnais
didn't want to stoke those flames of anti-Japanese sentiment (in 1959 it
was either still there or had receded perhaps). The real focus here is
about the malaise of living in a world where death is all around - that
and madness. It's mostly about the woman then, and of course the film
was written by a woman, an acclaimed writer (Margeurite Duras), and it's
about this woman's memories for the most part mixed in with that of
The first ten minutes actually is presented mostly
like a companion piece to Resnais previous masterpiece, Night & Fog.
That film, if you remember (no pun intended), was about the horrors of
the holocaust shown in montage. Hiroshima gets the same treatment, and
we see mostly the bodies laid to waste, the victims who were left with
scars and mutations and radioactive treatment. The narration makes it
compelling on an other level as the woman voice says what she saw, and a
male voice responds "You saw nothing."
Is this about one
experience over another? It can't be the character Emmanuelle Riva
plays, right? She is still in Nevers, the French town which has an
alliterative touch with a character sometimes saying 'Nevers again'. Is
it her, or her in another format? The third person instead of the
first? And this comes with editing going between the shots of Hiroshima
devastation and the couple in bed, close shots, their skin wet with
sweat (this after the very first shot of the skin in ash). If this ten
minute sequence doesn't suck you in with its stark poetic touch, the
ache for loss and power of witness revealed with then and there, just
stop watching the movie.
What most of the movie about isn't
quite about Hiroshima, at least up front and center... well, after a
certain point. Certainly in the first half Riva's character Elle is in
Hiroshima for a reason, as an actress she is in a (good) propaganda
movie about "Peace", and most intriguing is how this brings this couple
of Elle and the Japanese man she's having an affair with, Lui, closer
together as he has to get her out of the way of the "actors" marching
There's so much depth with the atmosphere around them
that it's touching and so effective how Resnais makes it about this
couple. And few things are as effective in movies of this period as
Riva as an actress. I'd only known of her from the 2012 movie Amour -
and that I knew she was in this movie most famously. She's beautiful in
the role, but her beauty isn't that of a "STAR" ala, I dunno, Brardot
or even Anna Karina among French stars of the period. Riva is like a
woman you might meet on the street, and you could fall in love with and
have children with. And behind being a naturally attractive person is
an actress who delivers so strong with this character - this character
who has this world of pain that she's buried deep.
perhaps most poignantly so then, that the Japanese man doesn't tell his
story of war horrors (who knows if he has them, perhaps being Japanese
he is too reserved to reveal them), but it's this woman's war story.
She mentions at some point madness is like "Intelligence", and that it's
hard to explain how it comes or people get it. It's just there. Why
does she go so mad? She says she had a love, the ideal one, and then he
went off to fight in the war and she went nuts... How so? Perhaps it's
said, but it doesn't matter as much as the sensory details of her
experience. Being in that cellar. Clawing at the walls. Eating the
dry blood. Being THERE with the short-hair and then trying to escape.
This is aching, evocative cinema of a high order, especially in that
mid-section where Liu plies Elle with liquor at a restaurant, and Elle
get so far into it that he has to smack her to bring her out of it.
He's not even abusive, it's simply that she gets it at that moment
(also, the period, sad to say, maybe now he'd do something else). But
what makes this even better as a classic tale of love and loss and
bewilderment is when Elle walks around Hiroshima in the middle of the
night. She knows she can't stay, and Liu does as well (he's married
too, his wife somewhere in the hills or something, it's Brief Encounter
2.0 of course).
But she doesn't want to go. She now has THIS memory to
contend with. And he does too. There's so much sadness between them
that, if you're right there with the characters, and the way Resnais
paints them it's realistic but also poetic in equal measure, which is so
hard to pull off it's hard to tell if he did it in the next film,
Marienbad, which is also about memory and loss but is more... shallow,
This is about the loss of a civilization, but we see
in this opening ten minutes, in part in a museum, that life goes on (or
it doesn't for those who are already gone or about to die), and yet life
and death and madness can happen on an intimate, small scale as well.
It's a companion to Brief Encounter, but also to Lost in Translation
(like the greater Aunt to it or something) in depicting people trying to
find their places in the world. By keeping it as honest as possible,
between Riva revealing her characters pain and (at times) happiness and
love, and yet by the late Resnais letting Duras bring some dialog that
could be confusing for those not keeping up - watch how characters use
the word 'you' at times, mostly Elle - it brings it to a whole other
level. I love this movie.