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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hiroshima is at the heart of this deceptively simple story. Hiroshima
not only as the city which received the fatal bomb on the morning of
August 9, 1945, at 9:15 AM, but Hiroshima as the city of Nevers which
the woman tries to escape from (but ultimately can't), and Hiroshima as
the Japanese man with whom she is having a clandestine affair. The
tragedy of the past dresses and undresses them like the ashes seen at
the beginning of the film, superimposed on the glistening sweat from
the protagonists' lovemaking... an act that will not be repeated after,
or throughout the movie. Theirs is an affair that will remain devoid of
a fulfilling consummation.
We don't know much about these two people in the beginning: She (Emmanuelle Riva) is in Hiroshima filming scenes for an anti-war movie; he lost his family to the bombing and knows of the pain and the inconsolable loss. The Actress tells him (Eiji Okada) she knows of loss as well, and can identify. At first, we don't know what is under her skin, or why she calmly tells him there will be no more meetings, that he will go away. It is his staying, faithful, by her side, that causes her to slowly peel away at the layers of pain that have lingered just under the surface for 14 years now, eating at her, wanting some form of exorcism.
Rarely has there been such naked intimacy told or filmed on screen in such unconventional manner, de-glamorizing the actors, almost depersonalizing their egos, for the sake of telling a story that took place years ago, but is still present in her mind and soul and is still happening, in an endless repetition, over and over again. Being in Hiroshima only intensifies her grief and overall isolation. Knowing the affair must eventually end and that they will go back to their lives practically turns her to stone in one scene, as morning arrives.
Here is the real tragedy of the story: that we have come to care for both of these people, that they have somehow formed a bond that has been able to rise, like Hiroshima, from the ashes of the past, but that the isolation and inner torment that still rages prevents there being any simple solution -- no Hollywood ending where She will carry out her impulsive decision (that she makes one, to stay, is here, but only in desire, not action), and from what little we still know of Him, no statement that He will leave his unseen, unnamed wife. They will part, and her exclamation near the end: "I am forgetting you already!" is an act, a defense mechanism. She hasn't forgotten the incident at Nevers (which becomes her symbolic name at the end), nor will she forget this man whom at the end has named himself Hiroshima, in remembrance.
This film has been compared to "Citizen Kane," not because of the story itself, but the way it is told, and through innovative artistic devices. The screenplay is highly poetic even when describing destruction, death, and madness. Several jump cuts in time occur with voice-over, and, at the beginning, voice-over during a montage of frightening images from the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing and the bodies of the two lovers in bed. The characters represent different cities; the Japanese man, Hiroshima, the French woman, a city in France, Nevers (was this intentional?), but the latter might as well represent any outside nation. While "Hiroshima," even after being destroyed by an "ally" of France, falls in love with her and wants her to stay, despite his claims that she can never know what the bombing was really like, yet leaving this in the past without forgetting, "France" is hung up on a dead Nazi soldier whom she had loved, and became an outcast because of it. What the soldier really seems to represent is not the Nazis, but rather a real, true love that transcended nationalities and associations. France's past is personal and fears forgetting it, while Hiroshima's is communal and, while not wanting to forget, also wants to move ahead. For this reason Hiroshima keeps trying to convince France to stay so that they can be in love, but France is too preoccupied with its own personal ghost that it cannot share, which is why it is a major breakthrough for her when she tells her tragic story for the first time to anyone, Hiroshima. Hiroshima's past tragedy being communal is shared and it wants to share with the rest of the world. France's tragedy is personal and is only beginning to be shared. It takes the entire film before the two characters can get to a beginning of something more than their differences and likenesses of tragedy and loss in the past, and this beginning is who they really are, in the present, two people reborn from these tragedies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie has a strong reputation, but I knew very little about this movie before my first viewing. I was only aware that Marguerite Duras, a fine writer, had produced the original screenplay for the movie and that it was considered a literary gem in its own right. The screenplay is one that you can read and enjoy, on its own, even if no movie had ever been made from it (more on this later).
Alain Resnais is the director. I draw it to your attention that this is Resnais' first feature film, and apparently foreshadowed the style of much of his later career. What is clear from this film at least, that he is a gifted, sensitive and unyielding artist. The techniques with which he brings this screenplay to life are rigorous and unflinching. There is love behind what he has done here; you can tell he loves this story and he loves these characters.
The movie has only two main personalities. The film follows a brief connection between these two people, over the course of approximately 48 hours. It is a very short film, but its a very compacted one; and all its elements are densely fused together --like a diamond or other gemstone. Its aspects are clear, fine, and bright; there is no murkiness or muddle in the ideas of this film. It is not just a rambling 'romance story'. It is literally a movie in which the camera films little more than the memories of two strangers--and the emotional conundrums that expand when their owners meet, and combine. When each faces the growth of a new relationship. The plot is simple; however the emotions are not. Its a complex psychological study and a visual poem.
The setting of the film is extremely succinct: only a few locations contain the entire movie. The journey is rather through an emotional terrain-- a journey of these characters' memories. This inner terrain unfolds (as does everything else in the film) through the dialogue of these two individuals to each other.
The characters are a beautiful French actress doing a location-shoot in the town of Hiroshima, Japan; and a Japanese man she meets there. She has a striking appearance, with a face that is both young and old at the same time; a body that is slim but wizened. Her aspect is alluring and carefree in some shots, but she wears her hair in a mature, classic, manner--almost severe. She is in Hiroshima for a few days only at most. It is 1959. She is about 34, and married, but has allowed herself to be picked up by a sensitive, intelligent Japanese man in a bar. He is an architect. They are spending the night together; many of the camera's opening shots are of their closely-entwined limbs.
Their conversation begins --and becomes--the movie. Its initially a lovers' conversation, as typically happens between a couple lying in bed after sex. They are talking lazily, insouciantly, chuckling with one another over this or that comment, and playing with each other as they rest. Its a very long scene and takes up almost the first third of the film.
What is odd is that the camera doesnt waver--and this is what is intense: the camerawork thrusts you right into this bed and into every expression exchanged between the couple. There is no retreat or pulling-back. There is not a lot of quick cuts between one face and the other either; a few extended shots capture it all. Because the faces are so close to each other (the two figures are almost one) it can be captured in this deft manner.
Its an incredibly daring, bold, ruthless cinema. Very like Bergman. I emphasize it here because it is the filming of the actors' faces, as close as feasibly possible, that characterizes the entire movie. Their faces are the landscape of the whole film: your eyes range and glide over the woman's face in particular, which becomes vast and sombre as she relates fragments of her past life to the man beside her, under his coaxing. The conversation eventually becomes tormented and agonizing.
But you are witness to every muscle tremor, every nerve twitch, you absorb every expression as it flickers across her beautiful, fey complexion. You watch her huge, sad, brown eyes that gaze into space as she talks about herself. Her smiles turn up the corners of her mouth at times, but her face remains wan and stark. She has the ability to display more than one emotion at a time. Excellent casting and astounding performances, particularly from this actress. The work it must have taken to get these close-up shots so precise and correct--the effects are mesmerizing.
I will tell you briefly that the rest of the plot is very simple: the woman rises for her day's filming, but her lover, who becomes increasingly absorbed and obsessed with her, follows her. The last third of the movie is set in the bar they met at the night before, where he attempts to convince her to stay in Hiroshima. (At the end of the film, this is still left ambiguous). There is a montage or two, there are flashbacks deployed which help reveal the woman's past up to this trip to Hiroshima.
What really goes on here? How can a film survive on a construction of only three basic scenes, and two characters? Well, what happens is that with a human theme of this microscopic focus, the addition of anything more than a few basic sets, scenes, or actions is negligible. Duras, rather, is exploring their souls. Exteriorality simply doesnt matter. The nature of the relationship between the pair reduces everything else to ornament, prelude and ephemera to their contact.
What develops the tension is the crucially important dialogue the pair have with each other. Because of the complexity of the verbal revelations, it is the dialogue that becomes dominant in this film. Its hard to explain. The two people are merely telling each other stories of how they grew up; they talk about where they were the day that U.S. forces dropped the atomic bomb. The man was a soldier in the Japanese army at the time, she was a young girl in a small town in France. She had been in love with a soldier who died. Again, very simple.
But note this: when she speaks to this Japanese man, a wonderful device is used by Duras (and filmed exquisitely by Resnais). She is speaking to the Japanese man but really she is talking to her past lover. So, all is not what it seems. Growth is really destruction, peace is really war, love is really death as seen through the prism of this woman's history--thats why she's in Hiroshima. And it is this 'doubling-over' and multiplicity of character with its symbol that is the heart of this film.
It is a dialogue not just between two lovers but between two people and their pasts. There are surfaces under surfaces. All of the elements are in juxtaposition. All of them are mirrored. All of them are in conflict. All of them are in alignment. The movie swirls with rich, intermeshed images, symbols, allusions, and metaphors.
For example, when the woman speaks of the river Loire that ran by her home, you see (all at the same time) her face, the river, and from the depths of the river, a hand beckoning (and it is the hand which is the memory she is recalling when she speaks of the river). This is but a minor example of the care that went into crafting every scene in this film. Its absolutely grand. I cant say anymore without giving it all away.
Flaws: the one flaw I see in this entire movie is that the dialogue is not always what you would really hear someone speak in real life. The sentences are at times very cumbersome, overly-literate and 'speechy'. It is as if Duras forgot that people dont utter really complex, poetic sentences to each other in real life. The screenplay should have been altered just enough to efface this. At these moments it really would have been better to have been reading the dialogue rather than listening to it; because it just sounds stilted and frail.
And there are times when the poetic images and metaphors are repeated and touched upon excessively--the density of the layers becomes a distraction in itself. Sometimes Resnais or Duras advances a motif, not just two or three times but five or six times, redoubling it in only a very few minutes. It would have been better to have a lighter touch in some places. But these are minor complaints.
Overall HMA is an enormously sensitive work of filmmaking. The story itself is moving in a way that should have impact and bearing on everyone, because it is all about self-awareness, and understanding how our hearts function--these are experiences that we all share in.
TS Eliot once said that "April is the cruelest month, because it forces new life up out of the cold earth . . " (my paraphrase). This is a good quote to keep in mind when considering 'Hiroshima Mon Amour'. The Greeks also said something that bears on this film: namely that change is the true nature of the universe. This movie is about self-change. It is about the cruelty inherent in personal growth, in having to shed your bonds with the dead.
HMA is a story about being alive and being human. It is about the pain of loving or losing one's love and the greater torment at having to relinquish that pain we sometimes wish to nurse and hold on to. These are sometimes the effects that loving someone has on your soul; and I will go out on a limb and say that its never been treated better than in this movie. Perhaps 'Last Year at MarienBad' is a close second.
But the emotional signature of 'Hiroshima mon Amour' is wholly unique. The movie is a landmark in cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alain Resnais does not neglect the blast of Hiroshima by wrapping it
with a simple love-affair...
His film is puzzling, but, at the same time, a compromise, a promise, a pledge to human society... It is too daring by its conventional moral standards, distinguished in the way it was done, written, made and executed...
"Hiroshima, Mon Amour" is about the fortitude of man, with its mental and physical power... Alain Resnais and his writer-collaborator Marguerite Duras combined a love story with an anti-bomb story... They carry out the horror of Hiroshima and the sorrow of a lost first love...
Hiroshima is a tragedy that shocks us, while the lyrical scenes of the the couple's love affair in Nevers makes us cry...
The story of Nevers does not trivialize the story of Hiroshima... We gasp at the tragedy of Hiroshima as we weep over the tragedy at Nevers... We contemplate a cosmic and a personal problem at the same time.
"Hiroshima, Mon Amour" is a new kind of film... It has great technical ability, illustrating hypothesis plus fact...
There is a close-up of Emmanuelle Riva , who has just glanced at Eiji Okada, asleep... Suddenly there is a brief flash-cut of the body of a wounded young man lying in approximately the same position in another place...
Resnais' camera moves like a stream from the present to the past and back to the present... It cuts back to Riva's face, and then back to Okada asleep, and in that split second the technique of the subliminal flash cut, used to describe a character's state of mind, is born...
This cut is the key to the film, for it is the man whom she calls 'Hiroshima' who reminds her of her lover at Nevers...
It is the tragedy of his race that reminds her of the small tragedy of her life...
This identification is carried through in the most neurotic moments of her recitative, when she looks at the Japanese and speaks to him as if he were her German lover of fourteen years before...
"Hiroshima, Mon Amour" reflects image and sound, past and present; the actual and the remembered; the personal and the cosmic; a man and a woman; concern for the individual and concern for mankind...
This is surely one of the most impressive movies i know. It is also a very impressive portrait of a woman. Don't expect to see an ordinary love story -it is as not so much a love story as a story of a wounded person meeting a wounded city. A story about two people hurt by peace. Even though it is over more than four decennia old it feels surprisingly new. The reason for this must be the beautiful photography -starting with the very first shots of the two lovers- and the deliberate moving away from conventional script writing by Marguerite Dumas. The movie has the feel of an opera, with the music of Georges Delerue as a moving force. I thought it was enchanting, and it stayed with me for days after.
As a follow up to his monumental documentary "Nuit et brouillard" (Night
Fog), Resnais continues in his war motif with a chilling and powerful
statement on the post-modernist, post-war world. An incarnation of a
Marguerite Duras screen-play, "Hiroshima mon amour" depicts the confusion
surrounding an eracinated and war-stricken people.
Questioning the possibility of Mimesis--"Tu n'as rien vu à Hiroshima. Rien!" (You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing!)-- Resnais rejects the notion of re-creation or imitation, conforming to the philosophies of Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida and thus calling into question his own efforts in "Nuit et brouillard." At the same time, he adheres to the Aristotelian ideal that the purpose of Mimesis is the cathartic effect produced by pity and terror, and not merely the representation.
Appealing also to Freudian psychoanalysis, the characters are forced to re-examine the effects of the pathology in attempt to reconstruct the past and determine the cause. (Notice Resnais' use of lighting in the reconstruction scene.) Subtle clues throughout enable the viewer to piece together the story and perform their own psychoanalysis of the situation. A young woman from Nevers, France vows to "never" return to her hometown and the viewer is left to determine the cause.
In my opinion, one of the top ten films of all time, "Hiroshima mon amour" is a work of art that all lovers of cinema must see. Resnais is a cinematographic genius, and his ambivalent depiction of post-war Japan and France in the characters of "Him" and "Her" make this film a cultural landmark as well as masterpiece of post-war, post-modernist art.
"Hiroshima mon amour" (1959) is an extraordinary tale of two people, a French actress and a Japanese architect - a survivor of the blast at Hiroshima. They meet in Hiroshima fifteen years after August 6, 1945 and become lovers when she came there to working on an antiwar film. They both are hunted by the memories of war and what it does to human's lives and souls. Together they live their tragic past and uncertain present in a complex series of fantasies and nightmares, flashes of memory and persistence of it. The black-and-white images by Sasha Vierney and Mikio Takhashi, especially the opening montage of bodies intertwined are unforgettable and the power of subject matter is undeniable. My only problem is the film's Oscar nominated screenplay. It works perfectly for the most of the film but then it begins to move in circles making the last 20 minutes or so go on forever.
The comparison between heart break and the Hiroshima bombing is beautiful. The film is about the pain of memories forgotten and remembered. Just as the pain of lost love will be forgotten so too have the horrors of Hiroshima. The scars will always be there but that feeling of pain and isolation as the world celebrates while you mourn will be lost in the past. Lui is helping to rebuild Hiroshima as an architect and Elle has fled Nevers, the place of her love affair with a German soldier. The film represents Frech New Wave in it's reaction against the Hollywood style. The plot is reminiscent of Brief Encounter and Casablanca (they even go to a bar called Casablanca at one point) but the films style is vastly different. Action will jump in time while conversation remains the same, the story jumps around chronologically and we are often unsure of where precisely in time we are. The reason it sets itself apart from other new ave films is it's use of style. Jump cuts and screwing with the chronology are not used because they can be but for a purpose. The chronology is off because the scenes are memories acting like real memories and flowing randomly. The cuts help accentuate how little time these two lovers have with each other before they will be parted. An excellent film well-deserved of it's excellent reputation.
One would hope a film like this would actually cause humankind to take
a step back and to foster the destruction of destruction itself. As
Duras noted many years later in her semi-autobiographical "The Lover,"
she made the distinction early on between those who would exploit and
destroy the weak and those who would protect them.
Here we have the exponential dynamic of this distinction in spades, realized in unthinkably tragic dimensions. Put in the simplest terms, "Hiroshima" is war personalized and psychologized in the language of love. It is the lovers' dialogue that begins to rouse the past; it is within the protective bond of love that atrocities can be drawn forth.
It is better to simply see the film than to depend on any synopsis. Once you do, its "medicine" will work within you --- and the medicine to which I refer is love.
I saw this thirty or so years ago. I don't remember it moving me
profoundly, but then so many things at that age routinely inject you
with massive change without you knowing. Seeing it now gives me great,
great appreciation for what it is. And though I have been previously
exposed, it washed over me all over again.
It has a laconic pace. Usually, one leverages this for relaxation into nature. Robert Redord. Here it relaxes into a tension of a different order, a quiet insistent striving for connection, like "In the Mood for Love." In this case though, the filmmaker has turned that yearning sideways so you have three dimensions of pull.
You have the desire for romance, here presented in a way that is more engaging than usual because of its folding into the other dimensions. You have the desire to comprehend war, war defined here as the sacrifice of innocents and war as a sort of incomprehensible desire running in parallel to all the other incomprehensible desires we see, every one.
And you have the desire of a film to reach into the inner world of ourselves. Film itself is a character here, with its own desires and doubts. The three of these fold in such a way that as we spend time with them we have to fill it by pouring ourselves into the film because it pulls story from us rather than serving it in timely patter.
Its an open world, made open by providing an amazing skeleton, on which we are surprised to find our own flesh and our own wondering about next actions.
He, an architect, she an actress, both highly cinematic beings. Both in Hiroshima with folded cranes over dying souls in beds. Both, this is us now, wondering, shall we do it? Shall she stay? What will it mean? Surely that the world will not be saved, not even a little, not even that they may try. Or will they? Should they?
This is such an open framework that not only do you pour yourself into it, but other filmmakers can and do. You owe it to yourself to see "H Story." after this. Or better, before. Hah!
Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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