Original release: June 10th, treatment 1959
Running time: 91 minutes
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.
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. It’s 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 her.
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 “Little Boy” nuclear bomb which was dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima on 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.
Those who didn’t die immediately from flash burns or falling debris suffered in the following months from the long-term effects. The confusion, helplessness and struggles of a city and its people try to come to terms with what’s happened is captured in such a profound way that it’s had to forget the images and feelings which accompany it.
Elle says to Lui that she’s 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…
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.”
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .