HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR
Review by Ed Nguyen
Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud, Bernard Fresson
Director: Alain Resnais
Audio: Dolby Digital French 1.0 mono
Video: Black & white, full screen 1.33:1
Features: commentary, interviews with Alain Resnais, interviews with Emmanuelle Riva, screenplay annotations, music-only audio track
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: June 24, 2003
think that in a few years, in ten, in twenty or thirty years, we shall know
whether Hiroshima was the most important film since the war, the first modern
film of sound cinema." - Eric Rohmer
the history of cinema, there have been relatively few film movements as
innovative as the French New Wave movement.
The films which arose during the peak of this movement, from 1959-62,
introduced a new language for film and a fresh artistic style whose influence
can still be seen in many films today. While
Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Eric Rohmer were among the most
prominent of the New Wave directors, even they acknowledged that one of their
contemporaries, who was not even an auteur, was probably the single most
innovative director in France at the time.
That director was Alain Resnais.
did not consider himself a member of the New Wave. For one, he was a generation older than the other New Wave
directors. For another, he had
already been directing or editing films for quite some time by the onset of the
New Wave, though he did not release his first feature length film until he was
thirty-seven. His early filmmaking
career, which had begun shortly after the second World War, had been comprised
mostly of silent documentaries on 16mm film.
In 1948, he released his first 35mm short, Van Gogh, an Academy Award winner.
Through this film and other short subjects, Resnais was slowly able to
make a name for himself. His 1956
short film Night and Fog is considered
his finest short feature but, more importantly, it experimented with the style
that would finally be brought to full maturity in Resnais' first feature length
film, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959).
its premiere, Hiroshima Mon Amour must
have seem like a work of inspiration. Filmed
in a daring, almost ethereal manner, the film showcased a boldly innovative
flashback structure which de-constructed the timeline.
Past and present seemed to co-exist, merging memories with reality to
create an almost hypnotic tone throughout the film.
At once reminiscent of the great Russian montage films of the silent era,
Resnais' film also invited comparisons with the modern art movement of cubism as
it might have been applied to cinema. Herein
was a film which had been shattered into fragments and then re-assembled into a
new creation, similar yet wholly original in its reconstituted form.
The usage of subjective time and fragmented construction defined Resnais'
career but was rarely more prominent than in Hiroshima
Mon Amour, which earned the International Critics' Award at the 1959 Cannes
Rohmer had once remarked that, prior to Hiroshima
Mon Amour, there hadn't been "any profoundly modern cinema that
attempts to do what cubism did in painting and the American novel in literature,
in other words a kind of reconstitution of reality out of a kind of splintering
which could have seemed quite arbitrary to the uninitiated."
Indeed, Resnais' style has been emulated often over the years, even by
such accomplished directors as Ingmar Bergman (in Persona),
Nicolas Roeg (particularly in his masterpiece Walkabout) or Terrence Malick.
Hiroshima Mon Amour had been meant to
be a documentary. Entitled Picadon,
it was to have been an examination of the atomic bomb explosion and its impact
upon the Japanese collective conscience. However,
during pre-production, Resnais altered the direction of his film, focusing
instead upon the theme of Hiroshima as experienced through the eyes and ears of
a foreign woman. The film would be
a fictional tale, perhaps an allegory on loss and the uncertainties of the
recruited the literary talents of novelist Marguerite Duras to help him with the
film's story. Though Resnais was
not technically an auteur and usually relied heavily upon the contribution of
screenwriters, he nevertheless often collaborated quite closely with them.
In the case of Hiroshima Mon Amour, Resnais had the fortune of working with a
novelist whose literary experience provided a flowing, poetic thread to many of
the film's scenes. Coupled with
Resnais' innovative editing technique, the film acquired a lyrical, surreal
nature, like a wistful daydream where the separations between visions of the
mind's imagination and reality had dissolved.
The film was, in a sense, a beautiful fusion of the expressive passages
of a novel's text with the visually artistic potential of the cinema.
Hiroshima Mon Amour can be said to
exist on several levels. On the
surface, there is a superficial plot of two lovers, a French woman and a
Japanese man, who spend two evenings together.
The first evening, of which we the viewers only catch a glimmer, is a
pleasant one, whereas the ensuing twenty-four hours, on which the film focuses,
are haunted by the couple's knowledge that their time together is fleeting.
On another level, the film reveals its origin as a documentary, for the
memories of the Hiroshima tragedy resonate throughout the film, whether in the
film's presentation of archival footage or from the environs of the actual
Hiroshima, in which the film was shot. On
yet another level, the film is a deeply personal one, of one woman's efforts to
comprehend the events of her past and their mirrored projections upon the
present. In this sense, since the scale of the human tragedy at
Hiroshima is often too great for a mind to truly comprehend, its symbolic
representation in the allegorical memories of one woman's life offers a more
intimate and sympathetic connection.
has only two main characters - a French woman (Emmanuelle Riva) and her Japanese
lover (Eiji Okada). In fact, the
very first image in Hiroshima Mon Amour
is that of the two lovers, intertwined as ashes slowly rain down upon their
bodies. It is a somewhat abstract
image, yet it is also a subtle introduction to one of the film's themes, that of
the interconnection between love and tragedy and of the timelessness of human
following fifteen minutes of Hiroshima Mon
Amour are extremely harrowing. Presented
in an extended prologue (interspersed with quick shots of the two lovers in
close embrace) are gut-wrenching, archival films of the aftermath of the
Hiroshima attack. We'll see the
city in ruins, mutilated animals, horribly disfigured or injured survivors, and
a great deal of human suffering, even among the deformed, innocent children born
after the war. While some of this
footage is borrowed from a Japanese reconstruction film of the tragedy, a lot of
it is actual newsreel footage and can be almost too painful to watch at times.
Even as jaded as many viewers are nowadays, the images presented in the
beginning moments of Hiroshima Mon Amour
have lost little of their power to affect us.
story proper commences on the morning after the couple's first night together.
Throughout the film, this couple will drift apart but come together
again, as though in a slow waltz. They
are clearly amorous of one another, yet both grasp the reality of the situation,
that the woman must soon depart for her home and family in France, never to
return again. They acknowledge that
they should part company yet find themselves unable to do so repetitively.
Resnais' camera records their shared happiness and anguish, alternating
between numerous fluid tracking shots, which help to establish the film's
dreamlike ambience, and numerous close-ups on the actors, which provide a
tangible intimacy to the relationship between the man and the woman.
a superficial level, that is really all there is to the film.
The couple, by the film's conclusion, have reached an indecisive
crossroads. The film's story has
looped back to its beginning, and we might even imagine that the film will end
as it began. Will the new dawn find
the couple together again in each other's close embrace, with a fresh new day to
ponder their dilemma? The film
offers no conclusive evidence one way or the other, and if viewed simply as a
typical romance, its ending may seem unsatisfactory and incomplete.
Hiroshima Mon Amour is not really
about an affair between a man and a woman.
It is about the sense of loss, of the search for purpose or meaning
amidst life's joys and tragedies. On
a deeper level, the film is about the woman's internal search for herself.
She is caught between a secret past which tears at her soul even as the
memories of that past are finally fading away.
Her future is uncertain and whether it lies in Hiroshima or France, she
cannot determine. She is, in fact,
a woman without identity, and she does not even possess a name in the film.
Ironically, Riva's character is herself an actress who has come to
Hiroshima to participate in a film for peace, a point which some film critics,
in analyzing the film, have noted in suggesting that perhaps Emmanuelle Riva is
in a documentary about herself. It
is an interesting concept, and a slightly different angle on the theme of a
Riva's character has an intensely private and personal past, of which even her
husband and children are not aware. Yet,
she decides to tell her story to her Japanese lover.
She narrates this story in detail to him, despite the fact that she has
only known him for but a day and that he is still a stranger to her.
What is her rationale for doing so?
Does she see parallels between her past experiences and her current
affair? Is it a reflection of her
past guilt or perhaps a desire to seek comfort?
The woman is conflicted between her desire to both remember the past and
to forget it. In revealing her past
to this man, little by little, perhaps she is seeking forgiveness or resolution.
some degree, Riva's character is already a reborn person.
She has transformed herself from the utterly broken spirit of her past
into a happy woman with a family and a career.
But though memories may fade, the painful vestige of those memories may
still linger. And so it is with
Hiroshima as well, for the town had only just been re-built less than a decade
after the bombing. It had been
transformed into a pleasant tourist attraction but the remnants of its painful
past still haunt the town.
does it mean to live, or more importantly, to survive in the aftermath of a
tragedy, whether of a personal nature or on a human scale?
That is truly the question
posed by this film. Resnais has
crafted a beautiful and provocative film in Hiroshima
Mon Amour. Its non-linear style
and avant-garde sensibilities may seem unusual for a love story, but they serve
to accentuate the haunting aura of displacement and uncertainty in the film.
Hiroshima Mon Amour is one of
the true film masterpieces of the last fifty years.
Its lyricism and images, sometimes graceful and sometimes grotesque, may
have been diluted over the years due to countless imitations in other films, but
this film was one of the greatest of the entire French New Wave and remains a
beautiful film to this day.
are many achingly-gorgeous compositions in Hiroshima
Mon Amour. It is one of those
rare films which can be watched in silence while retaining much of its
mesmerizing effect. Happily,
Criterion has done a fine job in restoring the image of the film.
Hiroshima Mon Amour is
presented in a black & white, full-screen 1.33:1 digital transfer with
restored image and sound and improved English subtitles.
The source print was a 35mm composite fine grain master.
Some dust and a few minor scratches do remain, but the image quality is
generally fairly sharp with good contrast delineation.
The film's appearance does look its age, in part due to the old and
scratched archival newsreels used in portions of the film, but overall the
presentation is very pleasing to the eye and quite nice for a black & white
audio is mono 1.0 and is directed to the center channel, so do not expect any
aural fireworks. Sound quality is
sometimes thin, belying its monophonic origin, but nevertheless, the audio is
clean of hisses or pops and makes for a generally pleasant listening experience.
Fusco, composer for several of Michelangelo Antonioni's films (including L'Avventura),
has created a score that is at times reminiscent of traditional Japanese music,
at times abstractly atonal, and at times melodious.
The overall effect is a hypnotic one, and the score is the key to
establishing the sense of displacement and the search for purpose by the film's
main characters. I am delighted
that Criterion decided to include a music-only track with this disc.
I usually ignore such tracks, but in this case, it's worth a listen, as
much credit for the film's rich atmosphere must be given to the wonderful
harmony between the film's images and this fine score.
being a Criterion release, it goes without saying that the features included
with the film are first-rate. Other
companies should earnestly try to emulate the quality of the features on
Criterion DVDs. This DVD comes with
a couple of optional audio tracks. For
those interested in the delightful score, there is the solid music-and-effects
track. For those interested in
critical discussion, there is an audio commentary by film historian Peter Cowie.
As always with Criterion releases, this is a well-prepared and carefully
researched commentary and should please any fans searching for an insightful
examination of the film.
are two interviews with Alain Resnais on this DVD. The first one is a 5-1/2 minute excerpt from a 1961 spot for Cinepanorama. Resnais, looking somewhat like a bespectacled Dr.
Strangelove, provides a few broad comments on his films in general, not just Hiroshima
Mon Amour. The second
interview, from Le Cinéma des cinéastes,
is a 10-1/2 minute interview from 1980 in which Resnais goes into considerable
details about the early planning stages of Hiroshima
Mon Amour. His remarks are so
utterly riveting that it is easy to overlook the fact that this is an audio-only
interview played over a still photograph of Resnais.
Riva also provides two interviews for this DVD. The first is an excerpt from a 1959 interview for Cinepanorama. Filmed in Cannes, it is a 5-1/2 minute segment in which Riva
briefly discusses her stage career and also provides a synopsis for Hiroshima
Mon Amour. This interview
contains some mild spoilers, so some viewers may wish to wait until after
watching the film to watch this interview.
Then again, since the film is really more about the mood rather than the
storyline, Riva's comments should not diminish the film's impact on any initial
viewing. The second interview is a
new, 20-minute segment with Emmanuelle Riva, filmed exclusively for this DVD.
Riva is in high spirits and recounts many amusing anecdotes, including
how she was cast for the film almost by chance and how Eiji Okada, her co-star,
could speak no French but delivered his lines phonetically!
the DVD contains excerpts from Marguerite Duras' screenplay annotations.
These are narrated over clips from the film itself and are about 8
minutes in total length. Somewhat literary in content, they reveal Duras' obvious
background as a novelist. Coincidentally,
Duras also achieved cinematic fame again much later in life when her novel The
Lover, about a romance between an Asian man and a very young girl played by
Jane March, was made into a film in the 1990's.
favorite feature isn't actually on the disc itself. Rather, it is a 32-page booklet included with the film.
This booklet is a wonderful reference for fans of the film.
It includes a nice essay by Cahiers
du Cinéma contributor Kent Jones, a long transcript excerpt of a very
enlightening 1959 round-table discussion of the film by many leading New Wave
directors, and a few shorter essays on the film's composer Giovanni Fusco, and
the Japanese and French main characters. It's
a wonderful read!