Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Alain Resnais - Comme l'amour, comme la guerre

Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour is a rather brilliant depiction of the transitory nature of memory and human relationships. The beginning of the film shows "Nevers", the French woman and "Hiroshima", the Japanese man visiting a museum. A major part of our memory is tied to the information that we receive from our eyes, and I wonder if Resnais was inferring a connection between museums and film. Both are primarily visual spectacles, though film has the added element of sound (well, at least since the late 20s). Both attempt to preserve time in order for spectators to revisit it again, with the obvious difference being that the images in a museum space are usually static and within the filmic space they're moving. Perhaps more importantly is the fact that both films and museums have directors. There is someone choosing what goes and what stays for spectators to see. Therefore Resnais is suggesting that memory itself is malleable and transitory. Both museums and films have a transitory nature to them as well. Museums usually have a permanent collection which holds art that visitors can see every time they go, and then a section reserved for traveling exhibitions that change every few months, so if enough time elapses between trips to the museum, it is never the same place twice. While not so much the case in Resnais' time, now with the advent of DVD the filmic narrative is subject to change as well. For example, there are now 5 different cuts of Blade Runner available to the public, and who can forget the internet nerd outrage over the defilement of the sanctity of Star Wars: A New Hope when a new cut was released showing Greedo taking a shot at Han Solo before Han shoots him. On another, perhaps more metaphysical level, film and memory are both fragile media for preserving history. While nitrate film was much more susceptible to the ravages of time even celluloid film degrades, as any viewing of an 20 year old print will display. Much like memory, which is clear and sharp to begin with, but after a few decades becomes fuzzy.
Perhaps even more important than memory in relation to the image is the context of not just the images themselves, but of the viewer of the images. What I mean is that depending on where you are standing, two people can look at the same image and see two different things. For example, to a Christian the cross is a symbol of salvation, but indigenous tribes of the Americas could see it as a symbol of genocide and the destruction of their culture. This idea is echoed in Hiroshima, Mon Amour when Nevers and Hiroshima are laying in bed and Never is talking about what she saw at the museum. Hiroshima says over and over "You didn't see anything". This could mean that as a French citizen who never saw the effects of the atomic fallout firsthand like a Japanese citizen who lived through the aftermath, she could not fully fathom what had happened. And her perhaps Resnais is suggesting that true memory is comprised of all the senses instead of just what you can see in a museum, or see and hear in a film. Nevers never heard the screams of bombing survivors, nor smelled the smoke from the burning wreckage, nor felt her skin blistering from the heat of the explosion like Hiroshima had, hence his stance that she "saw nothing".
Their relationship is transitory as well. Nevers is in Japan to work on a film, and while Hiroshima wants to see her again, she is less than enthusiastic about a future meeting. Their trysts often take place in hotels as well, spaces where people stay for a few days or weeks at most, but then move on to somewhere else. These similar themes of memory and relationships are also explored in Resnais' film Last Year At Marienbad. It is set in a posh, ultra chic hotel resort where X tries to convince A that they had met the year before at another similar resort hotel at Marienbad. However, minor details keep changing every time he recalls the scenarios, like what she was wearing or where certain events took place. Even the location of Marienbad is unclear to X though, who admits that it could have been any number of other resorts he has been to. Again, the memory is fleeting, linked to a space where people stay for a short period of time. He claims that they fell in love and that she was to leave M, her husband, in a year and run away with X. This is where there is a major difference between the characters of Hiroshima, Mon Amour. While in both films they have names that suggest they are less singular human entities rather than a representation of a larger more abstract idea, Hiroshima and Nevers are names of places where people live and there is a feeling of genuine attraction between the two of them whereas X, A, and M exist in a sterile, cold, emotionless void. The substitution of there names is similar to the variables of an algebraic equation. There is an air of great formality, not only from the tuxedos and evening gowns that the guests of the resort wear, but also in the language. The more formal "vous" form of the French verb conjugations is used instead of the "tu" which is used between people who know each other well. Husbands and wives would not address each other with the "vous" form, and neither would two lovers. This suggests and emotional distance between all of the characters. __ repeatedly says "laissez-moi", wishing to be left alone, which could mean that the affair actually did happen and she wants to forget about it the passion that may have ignited it, or that the affair never happened at all nor would she want to be a party to something like that. Another difference between the characters of the two films is their class. While the characters in Hiroshima, Mon Amour were certainly well off, at least enough to be able to travel between Japan and France, the travel was for part of their employment. The characters in Marienbad belong to the "idle rich" class. There is no mention of what anyone does for work, they all seem to do nothing but take vacations to elaborate resorts play games, watch plays, or go to balls.

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