Alain Resnais  

Art-house intellectual French film-maker that started with documentaries and the revered 'Night and Fog' documentary on the Holocaust, then moved to fiction with the relatively popular Hiroshima Mon Amour (containing some documentary scenery on the bomb). In the 60s, Resnais tended to explore relationships with an intellectual eye on time, memory and subjective perception. He told a story through the lens of psychology while touching on its philosophical aspects. Characters are often abstracted and events follow non-linear progression towards this intellectual purpose yet the movie retains its accessibility and focus. And this is the magic of Resnais. He achieved what most other art-house film-makers don't: Focused, thought-provoking, accessible creations with underlying, deep but delicate layers waiting to be explored by the thinking viewer. He connects strongly to the subconscious using a delicate balance of ideas, psychology, narrative and emotion and as such, is the ultimate surrealist without using standard surrealistic techniques. His 60s movies demand to be seen several times with more details emerging every time, revealing a director who is as painstaking as he is subtle. A common approach in his movies is to explore a rather ordinary, even petty relationship or personality via deep psychological, philosophical, experimental or abstract studies, using cinema to expose and dig into his characters in various ways. After the 70s however, he veered towards relatively more conventional, somewhat artsy dramas and eccentric comedies and musicals. Died in 2014.


I Love You, I Love You  
A suicidal man is convinced to be the guinea pig in a time-travel experiment where he is sent one year back to re-experience one minute of his life in the Riviera with his ex-wife whom he loves and who died under not-quite-right circumstances. The experiment goes wrong and the man finds himself in an endless loop of repeating and overlapping snippets of memories, each time revisiting pieces of his life, sometimes with slight changes or more details and sometimes getting them mixed up with elements from the experiment (a mouse), or suddenly jumbled together, or with added subconscious commentary by characters from his past with subtle surrealisms, and even fantasies become reality eventually. We, the audience, get to reconstruct his life via this mobius strip of scenes, making Memento look like child's play. As a sci-fi thriller, this movie isn't very satisfying. Even as a philosophical exploration it is surprisingly functional in its approach, preferring to explore memories rather than ask and explore questions. But when it is experienced simply as a man's life seen through complex memories, the questions and deep existential involvement emerge. What if we live our lives as if stuck in a loop of disturbing, happy and life-changing memories? What if we remember things the way we want, and how exactly do we see our own reality? What is depression and suicide if not a catastrophic time-travel experiment?

A culmination of Resnais's art, once again exploring life and people through memories, only this time through the mind of a dying, sick and old writer. As he suffers through a difficult night, he creates a melodramatic story heavily influenced by memories and his subconscious, the tragic death of his wife, his fears and insecurities, and attempts at analyzing his children and in-laws. His family members are made to perform in an amusingly sordid soap-drama with fantastical and surreal details, the actors suddenly transported to different surroundings as he corrects the storyline, injecting symbolic scenes that expose his innermost thoughts, his children turning against him or criticizing him while he projects parts of himself onto the characters in his story. People turn into werewolves and are put out of their misery, a strange over-protective and aggressive football player keeps jogging through the scenes, and a character suddenly has an erection that 'is not his own'. His physical ailments, raunchy thoughts, and bodily functions keep interfering with the story, which further draws us into his most private world, but this is also balanced by deep and challenging insights, elegant cinema and personal/philosophical discussions. The movie at first may lose some viewers as it wanders aimlessly through dramatics, surrealism and the innermost rants of a cantankerous old man, but once the sun comes up and the real family members make an appearance, the payoff is incredible. A precursor and companion piece to The Singing Detective that is so challenging, it needs to be seen more than once by even the most perceptive of viewers.

Of Some Interest

Hiroshima Mon Amour  
A beautiful French-woman visits Hiroshima to work in a movie about peace and has a torrid affair with a Japanese man who lost his family during the war. The man re-awakens youthful love and madness in her, forcing her to remember a terrible experience with love during the war in France. The brilliance of this movie is in the way it remains involving and understandable until one digs into its depths, and then endless details with various thought-provoking interpretations emerge, depending on the viewer and frame of mind. The movie explores the woman abstractly and psychoanalytically, projecting her needs and memories on Hiroshima and her current lover. But this also detracts from the movie, as it is completely absorbed only with the neurotic woman and her constantly and annoyingly wavering needs between wanting to feel alive through wild and cheap romance, and her more sane and 'dull' state of mind in which she forgets such passionate madness. The man 'destroys her and is good for her', etc. Even war serves as a backdrop to her self-absorbed melodrama and images of Hiroshima feel out-of-place or even misused. A rich art-house movie and one of the best of its kind, but its flaw is its subject matter.

Last Year in Marienbad  
A maddeningly ambiguous and enigmatic art film that is so very French and which inspired countless discussions and interpretations. X tries to convince A whom he may or may not have met and fallen in love with at various places and who may or may not be married to M who may or may not have shot her, etc... X and A discuss, converse, and wander around a luxury hotel while the guests and M play games they cannot win while trying to guess the rules. What does it all add up to? Take your pick: a cinematic abstraction of time and psychology, the subjectivity of memory and objects, a metaphysical metaphor about life's questions and people's futile attempts at answers, a supernatural ghost story, etc. This is a blend of Robbe-Grillet's typical deconstruction of the gears of a story, mixed with Resnais's preoccupation with memory. This may or may not be terribly boring art. Or it may just be a very abstract, fascinating and challenging work. Or a bit of both.

Muriel, or the Time of Return  
Helene is lost in memories, selling antiques in her own home, addicted to gambling, unable to connect with the people around her. Alphonse is an old flame who comes to visit at her own request, who keeps many secrets and talks endlessly about Algeria, his past loves and his painful memories of his affair with Helene. A strange step-son has a traumatic memory of a captive called Muriel in Algeria, etc. People eat and talk together but are each lost in their own world and their viewpoints on their relationships, all based on subjective memories. Dialogue is disjointed, communication is broken, the editing splices together snippets of scenes, the montage offering glimpses into various personal dramas of complete strangers, constantly jumping between the different and separated worlds. On the surface, this is a talky, annoyingly disjointed drama, but underneath is an interesting cinematic experiment, using various techniques to explore people and how they connect (or don't) through memories. The end result is something in between: a dry, talky, grating but occasionally interesting experiment.

My American Uncle  
A blend of documentary, fiction, and very slight touches of surrealism to explore the human psyche according to the behavioural psychological theories of Henri Laborit. Three people's lives are portrayed from their childhood and upbringing until the various moral and emotional crises that test their behaviour. Laborit provides the lengthy narrative, interview and lecture on some rather simplistic psychological rules of behaviour and their mechanisms, using experiments with lab rats to simplify and demonstrate the mechanism in action. Resnais then uses careful editing to enhance the information, with interwoven snippets of critical junctures in their lives, glimpses of rats in experiments, houses or even humans wearing rat costumes, as well as 'Dream on'-esque clips of old movie stars that each of the characters identify with. The title refers to an ideal fantasy-personality shared by the characters. Mediocre and mostly conventional, but somewhat interesting.


Life Is a Bed of Roses  
An eccentric fantasy-cum-meditation on imagination, love and utopias. Several tales are interwoven, the first involving one man's obsession in the early 20th century to build a palace of happiness and transform all of his friends into new happy beings through a cult-like process. Another involves a modern conference on progressive educational techniques taking place in the same palace, gathering together various eccentrics with very different ideas on education. A third tale runs in the background linking a children's game in the woods and a medieval fantasy story with kings, midgets, murder, revenge, damsels in distress, etc. decorated with scenery and artwork by Enki Bilal. The utopias fail due to love, a single man's ideas, or a clash of incompatible ideas. People break out into song at random, and the characters are all colorful and lively, but I found it all empty and unrewarding.

1999- by The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre Table of Contents