Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
October 1, 2022 12:29 AM - Subscribe

A French actress filming an anti-war film in Hiroshima has an affair with a married Japanese architect as they share their differing perspectives on war.

The deep conversation between a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) and a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) forms the basis of this celebrated French film, considered one of the vanguard productions of the French New Wave. Set in Hiroshima after the end of World War II, the couple -- lovers turned friends -- recount, over many hours, previous romances and life experiences. The two intertwine their stories about the past with pondering the devastation wrought by the atomic bomb dropped on the city.

Michael Phillips:

It's such a bald metaphoric reach, you may find your defenses rising. Duras too was unafraid of stressing her themes and placing them heavily on the shoulders of the unnamed Riva character. "Devour me. Deform me, make me ugly," she says in voice-over, indicating the devastated emotional fallout of her youthful wartime liaison with a German officer, conducted in her French village near the end of the war. The architect has a more immediate connection with literal fallout.

Resnais' interpolation of actual Hiroshima newsreel footage, of scarred bodies and deformed limbs, forces the viewer to reconcile the documentary horror with the poetry. "In my film time is shattered," Resnais once said, responding to a comparison to the similarly nervy "Citizen Kane." Throughout his film, both characters try to forget even as they strain to remember. "Hiroshima Mon Amour" will always be too studied a masterwork for some tastes. But Riva's performance, chief among its triumphs, remains electrifying. She was no less so in Michael Haneke's "Amour." The exquisite unease in her every gesture, guarded or unguarded, feels like the truth. Even within the confines of a cine-poem whose real stars may be the editors, Henri Colpi, Jasmine Chasney and Anne Sarraute, Riva's work shines most brightly.

A.h. Weiler: With the assistance of Marguerite Duras, one of France's leading symbolic novelists ("The Sea Wall," "Moderato Cantabile"), as well as the Nipponese technicians involved in this Franco-Japanese co-production, M. Resnais is not merely concerned with the physical aspects of a short (two-day) affair between a Gallic actress, in Hiroshima to make a film, and a Japanese architect. He also explores the meanings of war, the woman's first love and the interchange of thoughts as they emerge during the brief but supercharged romantic interlude.A viewer, it must be stated at the outset, needs patience in order to appreciate the slow but calculated evolvement of the various levels of the film's drama, despite its fine, literal English subtitles. Neither M. Resnais nor Mlle. Duras are direct in their approach.For the first fifteen minutes, our lovers, in intimate embrace, seemingly are savoring the ecstacies of their moment. Simultaneously, however, they are discussing Hiroshima, the 200,000 dead, the remembrance (shown in harrowingly stark newsreel and documentary footage of that monumental holocaust) of that frightful period in history. It is, in striking effect, an oblique but vivid reminder of the absolutes of love and death.

Budd Wilkins: Like the anonymous entwined bodies glimpsed in its opening moments, things tend to commingle in Alain Resnais’s revolutionary first feature, Hiroshima Mon Amour. Marguerite Duras’s oblique script builds on an ever-shifting groundwork of spatial and temporal indeterminacies, a structural technique borrowed from the French “new novel,” in order to suture together past and present, private and public, desire and trauma. Moreover, the facticity of the film itself is continually called into question by Resnais’s decision to blur the boundaries between nonfiction and fiction. What began as a straightforward documentary about the atom bomb mutated along the way into something richer and stranger. Like Resnais’s earlier documentary short, Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour pushes against the very notion that disaster on the scale of the Holocaust and Hiroshima can ever be truly or entirely representable.

Duras’s narrative is really little more than one single shard of experience. A French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) in Hiroshima to shoot “a film about peace” has a one-night stand with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada). Her explorations of the reconstructed city, especially the ultramodern theme park-like memorials, reawakens painful memories of a wartime affair with a German soldier (Bernard Fresson) that culminated in public humiliation at the hands of her zealously patriotic parents. Arranged like a piece of modernist music, Hiroshima Mon Amour eschews linear development, advancing instead as a contrapuntal duet filled with repetitions and subtle variations on a theme: the necessary persistence of memory, as well as its obverse, the horror of inevitably forgetting.

posted by Carillon (1 comment total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How amazing! I really didn't know what to expect and this bowled me over. I'm not sure how to put into words what I felt watching this, but I really couldn't believe how much it affected me. The opening is just stunning, but the emotional connection that gets built resonates. There are so many movies that are trying to do what this does, it's really interesting why I think they fail but this succeeds. I'm not 100% sure why, but man this hits so hard.
posted by Carillon at 12:34 AM on October 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

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