In the seacoast town of Boulogne, Hélène sells antique furniture, living with her step-son, Bernard, who's back from military duty in Algiers. An old lover of Hélène's comes to visit - ... See full summary »
In the seacoast town of Boulogne, Hélène sells antique furniture, living with her step-son, Bernard, who's back from military duty in Algiers. An old lover of Hélène's comes to visit - Alphonse - with his niece Françoise; he too is back from Algiers, where he ran a café. Bernard speaks of his fiancée, Muriel, whom Hélène has not met. The narrative, like memory and intention, is jumpy, the past obscured by guilt, misperceptions, and missed possibilities. Appearances deceive, things change. As Hélène and Alphonse try to sort out a renewal, everyone seems off-kilter just enough to hint that all cannot end well. Can anyone know another? Written by
Resnais is one of the seven sages of cinema, perhaps even one of the most important ones. Within him we find others, like Godard and Marker, who inherited the problems he first posited with clarity of vision and eloquence of mood. Problems of memory, firstly how the past forms manifest in consciousness and synthesize an illusionary space which we then inhabit (in itself a poignant inspection of the mechanisms of cinema), more importantly what these past forms are, which we understand as the self and identity, and how they trap us in meaningless dilemmas.
His astounding contribution to this field, is in how he brilliantly envisions this space by means of a visual vocabulary and how he articulates within it. The museum in Hiroshima (which reappears here again, as homage), the hotel in Marienbad.
We find the wandering of memory again in Muriel, in a form a tad less inspired this time than those films.
Passions past and present, which defined the participants as persons and left indelible marks on their souls, we see how they appear again after time. We see these people use memory as the only means of reliving time, of painfully trying to claim again the ethical vindication that escaped them the first time. How this past, projected in their minds, appears again around them to trap them anew. And we see how, their lives stifled as a result of those past anxieties, the memory of these things points at no way out.
The characters in this are fittingly restless, always rushing particularly nowhere, actually running from things they won't admit. Running perhaps against all hope that they will face them again. Moments of reflection are burdened with half-remembered sadness, while life outside continues indifferently.
Entire scenes of this play out as they would in ordinary melodrama, then the narrative seems to break down for a time. Virtually recalling fragments of images and conversations which mean nothing, we become privy to the destructive powers of memory. We actually experience the disorientation as part of the movie.
But Muriel lacks something in comparison to those other films. Perhaps it's the political angle (re the Algiers conflict and how it resonates in a complacent French bourgeois society), which in previous Resnais films is quietly buried underneath, dormant and supine, yet here greets us upfront, often violently demanding our discourse. Perhaps it's the pastel color palette, that may had been intented to invoke the contours of melodrama whose tropes the movie rearranges, but renders the film now a relic of the times.
Nonetheless Resnais here gives us an important realization. How we spend the present moment reliving past sufferings or anticipating the future with fear or hope, allowing these chimeras of the mind, born of desire, to cloud our soul, to disrupt our contact with the world. He gives us this not as a grave speech, something Bergman would do who was impotent in the face of suffering, but in the form of a merry jingle, which one character playfully recites after a dinner gathering, as a way of reminding us how trivial and unimportant these past or future fears are.
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