Alain Resnais at IFI

 

4th-29th August

Positif magazine recently described Alain Resnais as ‘the greatest living French Filmmaker’. Now approaching his 90th year it stands as a well-deserved tribute.

This retrospective has been prompted by the re-release of a beautifully restored digital version of the eternally mesmerising Last Year in Marienbad (1961). He had preceded that film with his debut feature, Hiroshima mon amour (1959), which depicted time and memory on screen in a new way, and followed it with arguably his most completely achieved masterpiece, Muriel (1963), in which a seemingly mundane reality is transformed by montage into a mosaic of painful memory. These works established him as one of the leading film modernists during a decade which, more than any other, forced recognition of the cinema as the major art form of the century.

Later masterworks such as Providence (1977), featuring John Gielgud’s performance as a dying writer and showing the wild unruliness of the artistic imagination, consolidated his position as one of the great innovators of film form. Almost all of Resnais’ films are love stories but what makes them special is the intellectual and imaginative way the stories are told. Joseph Losey once complimented him as “the only director from whom I can learn”; generous recognition of a fellow maestro who has never ceased his exploration of the medium’s limitless aesthetic possibilities.

Other films in the first part of the season include a programme of Resnais’s early short films (1948-1958); The War is Over (1966); Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime (1968), Stavisky (1974), My American Uncle (1980), and Life is a Bed of Roses (1983). The retrospective will conclude with Part Two at the IFI in September.

The Cinema of Alain Resnais (Part 1) Schedule

Alain Resnais Short Films 4th August  18.40

Hiroshima mon amour 13th August  15.30

Muriel 14th  August  15.00

The War is Over 19th August  18.40

Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime 20th August  17.00

Stavisky 21st August  16.25

Providence 22nd August  18.50

My American Uncle 23rd August 18.30

Life is a Bed of Roses 29th August  18.40

Tickets are available from the IFI Box Office 016793477 or online at www.ifi.ie

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DVD: 'Night & Fog' & 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' (Alain Resnais)

Alain Resnais is one of the most famous French filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague period; but while a revolutionary in his own right, his films are too stylistically different to be considered a real part of that movement.

As part of an upcoming retrospective of the 89-year-old director’s work at the BFI, Optimum have re-released two of his most famous works on DVD.

Night & Fog

Resnais’s first films were documentaries, and none has been more influential or important as Night & Fog. Made just 10 years after the end of World War II, this documentary was one of the first to dare to explore the terrible history and impact of the Holocaust.

Brevity is not something we associate with films about the Holocaust. Schindler’s List and The Pianist both run at over 150 minutes, while Shoah, the most famous of all Holocaust documentaries, is an exhausting 10 hours. Night & Fog, however, is just half an hour long, but loses none of its emotional punch in the process.

Juxtaposing black and white newsreel footage of the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust with contemporary colour footage of deserted, weed-infested concentration camps 10 years after the war’s end, the film relies on the power of this imagery and a pensive, sorrowful voiceover that lays out the monstrous facts and figures.

The film raises questions not about how this was allowed to happen, but about how we deal with the reality that it did. Any road in any town can lead to a concentration camp, Night & Fog reminds us, challenging us to never forget. Eschewing interviews with those who experienced (or assisted) in the genocide, the only ‘survivors’ on film are the structures of Auschwitz – discussed as much in terms of their architectural design as in the horrors that went on within them.

Harrowing, but brief, Night & Fog should be seen by anyone who is unwilling to study the Holocaust in depth. It reminds us, not that the Holocaust happened, but that it is still with us – the buildings remain, the survivors live on, the dead remain the dead.

Resnais’s first feature film came four years later, and came as a reaction to requests to make a similar documentary to Night & Fog about the atomic bomb.

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Hiroshima Mon Amour starts out in a very similar manner to his documentary work. The first 10 minutes consist of the film’s heroine, played hauntingly by Emmanuelle Riva, narrating what she saw on a visit to Hiroshima and is unable to forget. Documentary images of the aftermath of the bombing – some just as agonising to behold as those in Night & Fog – accompany this introduction, not to force the film in a preachy direction, but to set a background to the film that its protagonists cannot escape.

The story opens on our unnamed heroine, a French actress shooting a film ‘about peace’ in the city, engaged in a brief affair with a Japanese man, played by a stern Eiji Okada. In a style more familiar to audiences now from Richard Linklater’s Before… films, Hiroshima… follows the passionate couple’s conversations in the last hours before they must part; she returning to her homeland, he returning to his wife.

The pair discusses their pasts and presents – the shadow of the war and the mushroom cloud ever present – with the conversation always returning to the heroine’s first love, a German soldier she loved, and was punished cruelly for loving, during the war.

Beautifully shot, the film frames the couple as inseparable and yet torn asunder. At times their bodies are so coiled together you can hardly tell where one begins and the other ends; at others they stand distant, aware of the impossibility of their love. In one scene the couple continue their hopeless debate sitting on a bench on either side of an elderly Japanese woman – the elderly woman eavesdrops despite the language barrier, another sign that the history of this city and the culture clash will always come between them.

Featuring a score that surprisingly blends Western and Eastern music, the film also highlights the clash of cultures in its visuals – the gaudy neon of rebuilt Hiroshima contrasts dramatically with flashbacks to the French town of Nevers (the location filming was shot by two different cinematographers, and it shows).

Slow and pensive, Hiroshima demonstrates all of the skills that would go into Resnais’s greatest work, Last Year at Marienbad, two years later, and yet remains a groundbreaking classic in its own right. A love story for those who have felt passion but not known if they could ever act on it.

David Neary

Night & Fog and Hiroshima Mon Amour are released on DVD  on 25th July

 

Night & Fog

  • Format: PAL
  • Language French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 2
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 25th July 2011

Hiroshima Mon Amour

  • Format: PAL
  • Language French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 2
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 12
  • Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 25th July 2011
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