Sunday, February 3, 2008

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

(L'Annee derniere a Marienbad, directed by Alain Resnais, France 1961)

Last Year at Marienbad is one of the most audacious experiments in post-war film. Alain Resnais' film, based on a script by 'nouveau roman' novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, dispenses with what we normally expect from viewing a film: a linear narrative or storyline, continuity editing (or having the filmic story make sense) and a story arc: or clear beginning, middle and end. This film exists in some sort of temporary present with echoes of a past that the main characters may or may not have experienced. In the filmic case the 'Man' (Giorgio Albertazzi) trys to convince the 'Woman' (Delphine Seyrig) that they have had an affair, while her dessicated husband (Sacha Pitoeff) looks on in menace and concern. The upper-class elegant milieu and the glamorous emptiness of their surroundings entrap all of them somewhere in post-war Europe (read: an above-ground mausoleum).

The end result is a demanding art film full of ellipses, obfuscation and romantic sentiment of the order of one of Alain Robbe-Grillet's 'nouveau roman' experiments. That it works is due to the directorial eye of Resnais and the sexy, insouciant and mysterious persona embodied in the great French actress Delphine Seyrig.

"Last Year at Marienbad" is a classic of the French "New Wave" cinema, and has been successfully reshown in revival twice (as of this writing) at the Film Forum in New York. It generally polarizes audiences as a real head-scratcher, or "one of the most pretentious movies ever made". For this cinema goer, it will forever show the potential for film, experimental film in particular, long after the blockbusters are forgotten.

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