Alain Resnais | Hiroshima mon amour

“And then, one day, my love, you come out of eternity.”

Hiroshima mon amour is a 1959 French New Wave romantic drama film directed by French film director Alain Resnais with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras. Resnais’ first feature-length work, the film is a co-production between France and Japan, and documents a series of intensely personal nonlinear conversations over a 36-hour long period between a French actress, Elle (Her), and a Japanese architect, Lui (Him).(Source)

It was a major catalyst for the Left Bank Cinema, making use of miniature flashbacks to create a nonlinear storyline. It brought international attention to the new movement in French cinema, along with films like Breathless and The 400 Blows. The film features Resnais’ innovative use of brief flashbacks sequences to suggest a flash of memories. The movie is widely considered to be one of the most influential movies of the French New Wave.(Source)

The aesthetic quality and financial success of Night and Fog, Resnais’ film on the extermination of the Jews, led its producers to ask Resnais to create a film on the atom bomb tragedy. After months of fruitless planning, the director realized that he would repeat Night and Fog. When, however, Resnais conceived of linking destruction and reconstruction, of placing the atom bomb, the symbol of hatred, in the setting of its opposite, love, he was finally able, with the collaboration of the author Marguerite Duras, to create Hiroshima, mon amour.(Source)

“Listen to me. I know something else. It will begin again. 200,000 dead and 80,000 wounded in nine seconds. Those are the official figures. It will begin again. It will be 10,000 degrees on the earth. Ten thousand suns, people will say. The asphalt will burn. Chaos will prevail. An entire city will be lifted off the ground, and fall back to earth in ashes…I meet you. I remember you. Who are you? You’re destroying me. You’re good for me. How could I know this city was tailor-made for love? How could I know you fit my body like a glove? I like you. How unlikely. I like you. How slow all of a sudden. How sweet. You cannot know. You’re destroying me. You’re good for me. You’re destroying me. You’re good for me. I have time. Please, devour me. Deform me to the point of ugliness. Why not you?”

Hiroshima mon amour

Witness art

Today, Hiroshima Mon Amour is one of the best known works of the French New Wave -an “avant-garde classic” that has continued to circulate in repertory theaters, film courses, and festivals. Variously remembered as a haunting love story, an antiwar picture, a tale of remembrance and forgetting, Hiroshima Mon Amour has persisted in evoking a range of interpretive responses. The paradox in all this might be that despite Resnais’ conscious efforts to subvert assurances about docu-mimetic representation, the film has arguably become the source of many people’s imagery of the city of Hiroshima and the experience. (Source)

Hiroshima Mon Amour follows a twenty-four-hour affair between a French actress and a married Japanese architect. The one-night lovers are anonymous, unnamed through the film. He, the architect (Eiji Okada), is involved in a project of swift development, rebuilding over Hiroshima’s charred cityscape. She, a French film actress (Emmanuelle Riva), is finishing up a peace film set in the atomic city. The two strangers meet in August 1957. He, originally from Hiroshima, has lost most of his family in the bombing. She, originally from Nevers, France, where she was punished as a collaborator following an affair with a German soldier, has a less obvious relationship to the city of Hiroshima. The film begins with a sequence of grasping limbs and torsos. Cascading into camera-dissolves, these sweat-soaked bodies can be seen moving into the clutches of love or death. They enter into the visual ruins of a film which will repeatedly intersperse images of sexuality and annihilation. (Source)

In many ways, Hiroshima Mon Amour exists as an anomaly within the context of witness art. In challenging precepts of historical realism, the film eludes a literalization of visual memory. In contrast to atomic bomb films that have been attached to notions of photographic transparency, that have attempted to reenact the experience “as it happened” Hiroshima Mon Amour yields the possibility of being read as a complete testimony. Promoted by Resnais as a “false documentary,” Hiroshima Mon Amour resists becoming “just another film” about Hiroshima (that “other film” is there, represented as a peace film the actress has come to shoot). Instead, the dreamlike quality of film is mobilized in Hiroshima Mon Amour to evoke imaginative associations and memories that exceed any apparently literal codes.(Source)

In her preface to the published manuscript of Hiroshima Mon Amour, Marguerite Duras writes, “Impossible to talk about Hiroshima. All one can do is talk about the impossibility of talking about Hiroshima.” The refusal to represent events directly has been a constant feature of Duras’ writing. In Hiroshima Mon Amour, we indirectly approach the trauma of nuclear annihilation through the recurring metaphor of fatal love. The French actress’s tragic love affair with a German soldier in wartime France, her bittersweet fling with the Japanese architect, become provisional pathways into the immense trauma of Hiroshima. These trysts of passion and remembrance are given added historical valence because in each instance a national border has been crossed. Reproducing the terms of war in a disquieting way, the characters are forever identified with their respective cities. Otherwise nameless, each lover is given a toponym. Identified as Hiroshima and Nevers, they become ventriloquists for larger personal and social tragedies.(Source)

Film’S Reception

Hiroshima mon amour earned an Oscar nomination for screenwriter Marguerite Duras as well as the Fipresci International Critics’ Prize at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, where the film was excluded from the official selection because of its sensitive subject matter of nuclear bombs as well as to avoid upsetting the U.S. government. It won the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association in 1960. In 2002, it was voted by the international contributors of the French film magazine Positif to be one of the top 10 films since 1952, the first issue of the magazine.(Source)

“What she tells the Japanese is this lost opportunity which has made her what she is. The story she tells of this lost opportunity literally transports her outside herself and carries her toward this new man.

To give oneself, body and soul, that’s it.”

Marguerite Duras

Musical Score

Hiroshima, mon amour’s stark score was primarily composed by Giovanni Fusco, an Italian modernist composer who had come to Resnais’s attention through his work with director Michelangelo Antonioni.1 Fusco’s compositions for Hiroshima, mon amour are minimalist, written for a small chamber ensemble comprised of piano, piccolo, flute, clarinet, horn, viola, double bass, and guitar. Each instrument is given equal weight within the score; no sonority dominates.(Source)

Hiroshima, mon amour’s “Lovers” theme functions as a love-death requiem that echoes the film’s preoccupation with oblivion in all its forms: the oblivion that comes with giving oneself over to love entirely; the oblivion of hatred and the destruction of war; the ultimate oblivion of death.(Source)

Film reference

In his book on Resnais, James Monaco ends his chapter on Hiroshima mon amour by claiming that the film contains a reference to the classic 1942 film Casablanca: (Source)

Here is an ‘impossible’ love story between two people struggling with the imagery of a distant war. At the end of this romantic, poignant movie about leave takings and responsibilities, the two fateful lovers meet in a cafe. Resnais gives us a rare establishing shot of the location. ‘He’ is going to meet ‘She’ for the last time at a bar called ‘The Casablanca’ – right here in the middle of Hiroshima! It’s still the same old story. A fight for love and glory. A case of do or die. The world will always welcome lovers. As time goes by.

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