Hiroshima mon amour (1959)

In the slow course of ploughing through my copious amounts of unwatched DVDs (a task complicated by the fact that I keep buying new ones so the backlog is always fairly big and has been for years), I’ve finally made my way back to Hiroshima mon amour (as I said I would some months ago!), and it was interesting viewing after last night’s film; we have another married couple here (neither named until the end), only they’re happily married… just not to each other. She’s an actress visiting Hiroshima from Paris to shoot a film, he’s a random stranger she meets in some manner I don’t think is entirely explained. This will be a short affair cos she needs to go home the next day, and they spend much of the time they have talking. Well, mostly her talking with him listening and prompting. As screen romances go, this is an odd one; we don’t see either of them (not in full, at least) for 15 minutes, the beginning of the film mostly comprising newsreel footage of the aftermath of the bomb. In the film Hiroshima has (to some extent) moved on from the damage it suffered during the war, but she hasn’t moved on from her own personal wartime damage, which is gradually unearthed in the course of the film, with lots of talking and listening. It’s remarkable that the film never feels even remotely theatrical, given that it really is mostly one person talking (sometimes in internal monologue), though it does feel self-consciously literary; no surprise, perhaps, given that Resnais got Marguerite Duras to write it. But it still feels like more than just an illustrated text somehow, there’s enough humanity to these people to stop it feeling just like an exercise. I was expecting something more daunting, to be sure, indeed the Criterion essay seems determined to paint it as a difficult film, but I never had any problems with it; perhaps the flashback structure that seems to have puzzled people in 1959 has just become rather more commonplace in the last half-century since. Interesting too to learn that Resnais took the film on as work for hire rather than initiating it himself, and that it began life as a documentary; apparently the producers had funds frozen in Japan and decided that would be the best way to use them up. I think Resnais had the right idea. Fantastic stuff.

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