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The first time I saw 'Muriel' (it was, for years, extremely hard to find
video and only one video store carried it even in movie mecca L.A.) I was
completely confounded by it. The radical presentation of the ordinary
characters in the context of their transcendent thoughts and memories
to be uninteresting and bland, precisely because I hadn't thought of its
connections to the universal. I didn't think it warranted any closer
attention. But I knew there was something there I was uncomfortable with,
knew I had to come back to this film sometime and reassess it.
Needless to say, I am glad I made that reassessment because this is such an amazingly satisfying film, once all the pieces of the puzzle come togeher in your head in their subtle details. It is nearly flawless in conception and execution and has to be one of the supreme works of art this century. It works on more levels than any other film I can think of, even 'Pierrot Le Fou' and '8-1/2.' The difference is, almost all of it is hidden at first sight. You definitely have to pay UNDIVIDED ATTENTION and CONCENTRATE to start with, especially if you're reading the subtitles in English. Every word is there for a purpose and every shot counts. I'd suggest that you watch it (thank god it is now available on video and at such a reasonable price)at the bare minimum 3 times before you even presume to make a judgment. Here are only a few of the things I like about 'Muriel:' It is a thriller with many comic elements that ultimately becomes a sublime tragedy of modern existence. It has superb 'realism' in acting to beautifully contrast with what it's really about: the transcendent aspects of life such as memory and the way it and they (the other aspects) affect the present. The beautiful faded-tone, color photography is psychologically calculated (a definite influence on 'Red Desert') for effect and just indescribably poetic. The virtuoso, quick cutting in the middle section is completely chronological in nature but elegantly provides multiple perspectives without distorting things with unnecessary length (since all these things are going on pretty much at the same time).
I cannot recommend this film highly enough for anyone interested in great cinema.
"Muriel" (1963) directed by Alain Resnais is a drama about the
persistence of memory (aren't all Resnains' films? Incidentally, I
named my review of "Hiroshima Mon Amour" that I saw about two years
ago, "Persistence of Memory".)
Muriel of the title is dead by the time the movie begins, the victim of torture by the French soldiers during the occupation of Algeria. One of the soldiers, Bernard, is back in France living with his step-mother, Helene (Delphine Seyrig) in the province city Boulogne and hunted by the memories of war and Muriel. Helen deals with her own past and memories of Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Kérien), an ex-lover who comes from Paris to visit her in the company of his new 20-years-old girlfriend, Françoise (Nita Klein)
The story which Resnais tells is simple and the trailer for the movie gives a viewer a very good idea of what they are about to see: The Past. The present. The future - is it possible? Uncertainty. Suspicions. Lies. Four main characters, Helene, Alphonse, Bertrand, and Françoise are in search of what they are. There will be secrets and confessions. Is that time to love? The main theme of the film is reality vs. memory of it. Can we always trust ourselves with what we remember? Does our memory reflect the events the way they really happened or our vision of them is altered as time passes and new realities inevitably enter our lives?
What makes "Muriel" unique after all these years is the way the director presents the journey into the past of his characters, how they see it, and how it affects their present lives and the possibility (or rather impossibility) of love and happiness. Alain Resnains uses quick flashes of memory in the form of almost hypnotizing jump cuts of his genius cinematographer Sacha Vierny (Resnains and Vierny had made 10 films together). Vierny provided beautiful melancholic visual palette of washed out colors that created the atmosphere of unbearable sadness, loss, and hopelessness. Vierny who always underlined his preference for atmosphere over formal perfection, had said, "My satisfaction is that the photography is not remarked on too much for itself". The visual originality and innovation are accompanied by unusual unnerving soundtrack, eerie and haunting that adds to the understanding of guilt and remorse the film characters live with.
"Muriel" is a puzzling and multi-layered film that is easy to admire and meditate on. It is not entertaining or heart-warming and it is hard to identify with its heroes (or anti-heroes) but is always fascinating and rewarding and it may reveal its secrets after multiple viewings.
I had never seen an Alain Resnais movie before. Despite the fact most
of my IMDb friends had told me to start off with Hiroshima Mon Amour, I
was more drawn to Muriel and chose it as my first taste of Resnais. In
a nutshell: it was far more interesting thematically and
cinematographically (also on a purely technical level) than it was
enjoyable. I'm still very glad that I saw it, though. The most
fascinating aspect of it was without doubt the montage, or editing.
Rather than directing or acting, or even the screen writing, it was the
editing that had the lion's share of the movie, as if it were its star.
I cannot think of another movie where this is quite as apparent. Some
of Muriel's style of editing felt like machine-gun-fire, being so
relentlessly fast and aggressive in parts, but it was in my opinion
very powerful and efficient in leaving an impression of "mental
flashes". This emulated the nature of memory, which is the theme at the
heart of an otherwise grim and pessimistic movie. Yet this darkness is
masked by an appearance of everyday banality in a provincial town,
making it all the more depressing, since it's easier to relate the
melancholy at its core to one's own, everyday existence. Not for
nothing, the movie was also set in winter, and nothing is quite as
melancholy and nostalgic as a sea-side town off-season.
The last 10 minutes of the movie, more or less from the "revelation" at Hélène's Sunday lunch right to the moments in which the word "Fin" (The End) appeared on the screen, were the most powerful bout of cinematic caffeine I've experienced in a while. Until that moment I was starting to worry that the film was going nowhere too specific, or at least not somewhere that I understood or knew. Then came the final emotional earthquake, redeeming the movie tenfold, and I was virtually just as shocked as most of the characters in it.
OK, I'll admit I wasn't overly enamoured of the acting. With the exception of Delphine Seyrig playing Hélène, who succeeded in convincing me with her interpretation of the character as well as making me feel sympathetic towards her, the other players left me virtually cold. For a while I thought I'd like Nita Klein playing Françoise, then I started thinking that her character was pretty much redundant and should have been far more marginal than it actually was (and what was going on between her and Bernard anyway? That felt like a contrivance). Since I mentioned Bernard, played by Jean-Baptiste Thierrée, let me say that he was the character I was least convinced by. Quite frankly, I wasn't partial to the way the actor chose to bring him to life at all. Yet he and his drama - the traumas he'd experienced during the Algerian war, his witnessing the torture of an Algerian girl, the titular Muriel, which scarred him for life - was probably the heart and kernel of the movie! Jean-Pierre Kérien playing Alphonse, is the player that most viewers here seem to criticise. In my view there wasn't much else he could have done with the character, seeing as he was mostly a pretext for Hélène's tragedy. But in the last ten minutes of the movie Alphonse's raison d'être comes sharply to the forefront, thanks to the shocking revelation previously mentioned. It was Bernard that I expected more from acting-wise, I guess. Furthermore, the soundtrack was occasionally strident and annoying, perhaps trying to be an aural version of the editing. But while it worked on a visual level, the music's jarred quality was ultimately grating.
However, for the courage with which the movie tackled subjects which are best rendered in a novel form, for its successfully experimental editing, as well as its genuinely moving ending, I'll still award Muriel a pretty high score: 7.5/10 (it would have been 8 if the acting, not just from Seyrig, had been more accomplished).
This movie was made in the context of the revolution in the French cinema
and novel which took place in the sixties. Just like the work of
Margueritte Duras and Claude Simon whose novels avoided a straightforward
narrative style, this movie tells its story in an episodic and almost
This can make it difficult going for anyone seeking a simple tale, well told. But, if your taste runs to the more abstract, there is a lot to like here. Like "Juliet of the Spirits" this movie is infused with an intensely subjective portrayal of the story which unfolds of a betrayed love, an act of war time atrocity, and the desparate plight of a compulsive gambler.
Excellent cinematography and direction make this movie a wonderful and richly textured work which deserves several viewings to appreciate completely.
not for the casual DVD renter. Muriel is *not* entertainment but a film that demands that we endure its theatricality and embalmed atmosphere in order to reflect, along with Resnais, about various kinds of unbearable pasts, personal and national. The city of Boulogne is itself a character in Muriel, rebuilt and unrecognizable after the bombings of World War II...Helene (Delphine Seyrig) is an antique dealer whose home is her gallery--so she lives in a jumble of distant French pasts all the better to avoid her own. The "home movie" sequence is one of the few in French cinema of the 60s where the Algerian War is figured--but here, we see happy soldiers hanging out, images to send home (and to French TV), while the voice-over (Helene's stepson) recounts the rape and torture of the Algerian woman named in the title. Daring, in light of French censorship of any text that compromised state security during the "Algerian situation." Muriel will leave you with more questions than resolutions.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If we hold it to be true that "cinema is life with all the boring parts
cut out", then "Muriel" takes it further by being cinema with all the
boring parts cut out. What amounts to quite possibly a four hour movie
condensed and compounded into a pristine narrative about memory and
guilt, Alain Resnais' post-Marienbad movie shows a remarkable talent in
plugging directly into the viewer's senses in unforgettable ways.
Emphasis on the unforgettable.
Ever had those moments where you were falling asleep during a movie, and then something important happens and you suddenly snap awake and fret over whether you may have missed something? Yeah, that's every single cut in this movie. "Muriel" feels less like the full cinematic experience and more like all of the parts you remember after you haven't seen it for some years. That is not to say, however, that it is missing anything in its structure, including story and character development. It's all there, it's just compounded: dialog continues after the scene has changed, reaction shots are cut in half by moving on to the next reaction, establishing shots are also the first action shots of the scene, and the score is minimalized in, well, the maximum way possible (sometimes a single note stands in for an entire emotion). Same thing works with the writing and how it's blocked. Characters get upset and in the next frame are smiling. Someone asks where Bernard is and the next cut he's directly with them, having been there for several hours. The few days over which this story take place could just as easily be hours or years, and characters are constantly reading the news and never responding to it. Time and space in this movie are altered in very significant and unusual ways--in my opinion, brilliant ways.
Leave it to the director of Night and Fog and Hiroshima, Mon Amour to come up with something like this. What would seem for the most part to be a story about fractured relationships in a small French town is also an essay on the culpability of the French character in WWII and Algiers. The title refers not to a character, as it seems at first, but to Bernard's victim. Alphonse's statements about being a part of the resistance are later proved false, showing that even in his attempt to make amends with his ex-lover, he cannot stand up for his own liability in the war-efforts of a past generation. The only woman who cares for both of them (Helene, Bernard's step-mother and Alphonse's ex-lover), truly cares, has only a tenuous relationship with either, and can't even remember if she truly did love Alphonse while also being emotionally stuck on a fire that burned down her house, killing Bernard's father.
This is a spectacular movie in pretty much all respects. It's not for the easy-going film-goer, as it keeps a very brisk pace and thus can be hard to keep up with if one is not paying attention. However, it is so securely set in its writing, mise-en-scene, and editing, that it's not necessarily difficult to understand. A must for any fan of Resnais, French cinema in general, or those who are attracted by the relationship between cinema and memory--especially emotional memory.
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
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.
French avant-garde and former French New Wave director Alain Resnais'
third feature film which succeeded his highly acclaimed first feature
film "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (1959) and "Last Year at Marienbad" (1961),
was written for the screen by French poet Jean Cayrol (1911-2005) and
tells the story about a middle-aged antique dealer named Hèlène Aughain
who lives in her inner-city apartment in the provincial port-town of
Boulogne-sur-Mer with her restless and secretive stepson Bernard who is
haunted by a woman from his past named Muriel. Their lives changes when
Hèlène is visited by her old lover Alphonse Noyard who has brought
along a young woman named Francoise.
Masterfully directed by one of the greatest directors in cinema history, this character-driven and dialog-driven mystery, a metaphysical drama with rigorously composed visuals and sounds, about memories of love and war, where the past and the present is intertwined and where time dissolves, is a detailed and realistic portrayal of everyday life in a urban French town, a character in itself, where things much like the central characters are incomplete. Like Jean-Luc Godard's "Le Petit Soldat" (1960), Alain Resnais' film pointedly deals with themes of the Algerian War of Independence which had ended the year before "Muriel, or the Time of a Return" was released.
The efficient use of cinematic devices and the creatively fragmented narrative is pivotal in this stringently structured and acutely written story, which is an enchantingly atmospheric and cryptic chamber piece with memorable acting performances. Like some of the greatest films made by directors Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) and Luis Buñuel (1900-1983), this symbolic, metaphorical and distinctly stylistic early nineteen sixties French-Italian co-production gradually decodes the consciousness of it's characters. A truly engaging and elusive depiction of the human psyche which was awarded with the Volpi Cup for Best Actress - Delphine Seyrig (1932-1990) at the 24th Venice Film Festival in 1963.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Helene, a widow living in Boulogne, France, makes a living out of
selling antique furniture and objects which she uses in her own
apartment. The different pieces are part of the decor. She lives with
her step-son, Bernard, a recently arrival from the Algerian front.
Bernard is obsessed with Muriel, a young woman that was tortured by his
army unit. He is now writing his recollection of her, as well as
shooting documentary style films that deal with his recent past.
As the story begins, Helene had invited an old lover, Alphonse for a visit. Perhaps looking to relive the days of her first romance, she has asked him to come spend some time with her. To her surprise, Alphonse arrives with a beautiful young woman, Francoise, who he passes as his niece. It is clear from the start they know one another in a different fashion. Taking them in as her guests is a decision that backfires on Helene.
Helene has a weakness for gambling at the local casino. She loses most of the time. She seems to be pressed for money. Her good friend, Roland De Smoke, appears to be a well to do man. She gets money from him, as well as from another friend, Claudie, who holds the mortgage to her apartment, probably to guarantee getting money out of what could be a possible bankrupt Helene.
Alphonse, the visitor, is an enigmatic figure. He walks all over Boulogne making friends with the locals. In fact, Alphonse shows he is hiding from his own painful past. He too, has been living in Algeria managing a sort of club which he is too vague to describe. Helene, who has thought seeing her old love would lead to some change, ends up a lonely figure because nothing turns the way she had hoped.
"Muriel" was Alain Resnais' third full length feature. His popularity among the art house crowd was always strong, yet this film was not seen by a wider audience, as probably the producers wanted it to be. The problem might stem from the way Mr. Resnais cut the film which might lose the viewer if not paying close attention at what is happening on the screen. The scenario was written by Jean Cayrol. The film has a lot of symbolism that will elude a casual viewing. Antique furniture that equates with Helene's loneliness, a town devastated during the war, the memories of the recent Algerian conflict are part of the message Mr. Resanais wanted to project.
In Delphine Seyrig, the director found a muse, no doubt. The actress appeared in the first three films of Alain Resnais. She was a serious actress who collaborated with the likes of Joseph Losey, Luis Bunuel, Marguerite Duras, among others. Her Helene is about the best thing in the film. She gave a detailed performance, giving life to a troubled soul. Jean-Pierre Kerin appears as Alphonse. Jean-Baptiste Thierree is Bernard. Nita Klein, Claude Sainval are seen in the supporting cast.
It's about 50 years since I first saw Muriel; in those days the wounds
of the Algerian war were still fresh: bodies of Algerian immigrants
were found floating in rivers, Sartre's apartment was fire-bombed
because he'd supported Algerian independence and so on. Resnais had
enough reason to make a film about those troubled days. The trouble
with the film has to do with the uneasy juxtaposition of domestic drama
(the unhappy love of Hélène and Alphonse) with the ordeal of Bernard
and Robert in Algeria, and the dead girl over whom Bernard obsesses.
The love story is so much more interesting than the political theme
that we are left frustrated with the necessity of ignoring the latter
to the benefit of the former.
Delphine Seyrig gives a wonderful performance as Hélène; she's always in movement, trying to calm Bernard down, trying to coax some emotion out of the stony Alphonse, on the phone with Claudie cadging some money to gamble at the casino (she's not good about repaying debts). Jean Champion shows up in the second half as Ernest, Alphonse's brother-in-law, trying to bring him back to a sense of his duties to his family. He sings that wonderful song at the lunch party, then launches into an angry tirade about Alphonse's dereliction of duty. It's a superb performance. Nita Klein as Françoise is appropriately prickly, analyzing her options as she sees Alphonse sliding away from her. Claude Sainval is very oily as de Smoke, a man who can't stop thinking about the money he's lost on a derelict building: ''can't even get the doorknobs from it''
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