12 May 2008

Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959, France) - French New Wave Influences

The impact of the Nouvelle Vague on film makers around the world reinvented the language of cinema, and elevated the status of the director to one of reverence and commentator. Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut are the two most important film makers of the last 50 years and though their careers would eventually diverge into political ideology and romanticism, their contribution to film theory and criticism was as equally vital as their cinema. However, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Paris Student Revolution, the French New Wave’s starring role in the Workers movement is celebrated through the spirit of youthful eccentricities and bohemian chic in films such as Godard’s Breathless and Truffaut’s Four Hundred Blows yet contemporary criticism seems to want to leave out Alain Resnais’s contribution to the French New Wave. The strange irony today is that Godard has sort of semi retired from film making whilst Truffaut is no longer with us, and Resnais is still busy at work, making films and receiving critical acclaim for his contemporary and more romantically inclined films. Hiroshima Mon Amour is still regarded as the best film Resnais made, and though this may not be entirely true, it is certainly widely influential and a key film in the French New Wave movement. Resnais was part of the Left Bank intellectual crowd in the late 50s and his modernist and stylised approach to film making was the antithesis to the radicalism of Godard but reflecting on his breakthrough feature, it is clear to see how Resnais had brilliantly and intelligently mastered the use of two formal elements that would be hugely influential on film makers around the world; framing/composition and editing.

Beginning with a lengthy montage sequence with some evocative tracking shots down a hospital corridor in
Hiroshima, the film feels like an abstract experiment in editing, juxtaposing voice over with starkly composed imagery of victims of the American nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. The use of modern architecture becomes an inadvertent commentator on the mental and psychological state of the key characters, acting as a divide, separating people and fracturing relationships. The intelligent framing and composition of the mise en scene used by Resnais in many of the scenes would later become strikingly evident in the work of Michelangelo Antonioni and even Michael Mann who is also one of the few film makers working today who knows where to place the camera when filming a landscape or building. What make’s the film utterly compelling in terms of narrative is the subjective flashbacks delivered by the gripping voice over of the female protagonist, Elle, an actress who is making a film in Hiroshima. Elle’s story about her experiences in a small provincial town in France, Nevers, in which she becomes entangled in an emotionally destructive relationship with a German soldier are presented as a series of fragmented flashbacks that represent her memories, memories that have become blurred, and appear out of place, lonely and motivated in part by a degree of subjectivity.

Though Resnais was never regarded as part of the French New Wave, Godard when reviewing the film on it’s initial release, praised the film for it’s sheer boldness and courage to depict a relationship between a French actress and Japanese architect, and suggested that the film was a triumph and a key film in French cinema – this holds true even today.

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