Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour

Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Optimum Home Entertainment

Release date: July 25th, 2011
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 91 minutes

Year of production: 1959
Country of origin: France, Japan
Original language: French with English subtitles

Director: Alain Resnais
Writer: Marguerite Duras

Cast: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada

Alain Resnais had more in common with the Left Bank group of filmmakers than his French New Wave counterparts Godard and Truffaut. His films adopted a different style of narrative and visually there was something haunting, troubled and fragmented in them as they sought to tell us how the mind processes the events around us.

While his later films like L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961) and Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968) took the idea of consciousness as a running theme, those seeds were first sown in his earlier work like Hiroshima Mon Amour, a film which dared to put into words something impossible to describe.

Hiroshima Mon Amour

It can be viewed in two ways. One the one hand we have an extramarital affair between Elle (Emmanuelle Riva), a French actress making a film about Hiroshima, and Lui (Eiji Okada), a Japanese architect. The film is, for the most part, narrated by Elle as she talks about her life, her relationship with a German soldier and her observations of things, places, events and people around here. Lui rejects, denies and questions her but at the same time he urges and pursues her. Their time is coming to an end and soon they will return to their normal lives and all of this will be forgotten.

On the other hand, the film presents us with the effects of the nuclear bomb when the U.S. dropped the “Little Boy” on the city on Monday, August 6, 1945 killing somewhere between 90,000 and 166,000 people. In this way it’s a poetic documentary as it tries to describe the indescribable but language has no words for what we are shown.

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Those who didn’t die immediately from flash burns or falling debris suffered in the following months from the long-term effects but we see something else as well. The confusion, helplessness and struggles of a city and its people as it tries to come to terms with what has happened is captured in such a way that it makes me ashamed to be part of the human race, knowing not only that we did this but that we continue to use it as a threat to other nations.

Elle says to Lui that she has seen it first hand and he refutes her claim. He knows that she couldn’t have. While he was stationed elsewhere with the army his own family were victims in Hiroshima on that day. The moments and memories that Elle clings to, whether real or imagined, when contrasted with Hiroshima, are so trivial and banal…

Hiroshima Mon Amour

We know their time together is fleeting and we know we should take Elle’s words with a pinch of salt but what I felt Hiroshima Mon Amour was really asking me to do was not to forget what happened in Hiroshima or trivialise it as something we just read about or mention casually in conversation with others.

From its opening scenes with its lovers entwined in a passionate embrace as radioactive ash falls on their naked bodies through to its reflective finale, Hiroshima Mon Amour remains thought provoking and relevant today as it was in 1959 when Eric Rohmer said of it “I think that in a few years, in ten, twenty, or thirty years, we will know whether Hiroshima Mon Amour was the most important film since the war, the first modern film of sound cinema.”

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