Je t'aime, je t'aime (1968)
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To my mind I Love You, I Love You is Resnais' finest film since 1961, and I could easily put it at the same level with Hiroshima and Marienbad. By saying this, I mean no insult for Muriel and The War Is Over, both of which are brilliant films. I Love You, I Love You is a simple story; it might just be the simplest story Resnais has ever told. But the way how Resnais tells this story is unconventional, unique and opaque; he has completely abandoned temporal order. It's a story of a certain man called Claude Ridder who loves a woman and has tried to commit a suicide after the woman's death. Not having succeed in killing himself, an institution takes contact to him and wants to use him in an experiment. For the first time they want to try to send a man, instead of a mouse, to the past.
Resnais has always been interested in past, without being interested in the future -- with the exception of The War Is Over. In I Love You, I Love You this fascination for past is at its most concrete but the science fiction is just a frame story which gives a rational explanation for cutting the man's life in pieces. It's an abstract film and differs quite a lot from other films Resnais made in the 1960's. For instance, compared to Muriel, I Love You, I Love You only consists of about 300 pictures where there are about 1000 of them in Muriel. On Resnais' caliber the rhythm of the film is almost calm, and relaxed compared to the hectic rhythm of Muriel. In the art of editing, musical terms become essential; rhythm, harmony and chord, and in I Love You, I Love You Alain Resnais has completely understood the joy of the editing table and its force to dissect the rhythms and riddles of reality.
The film is perfect for its rhythm and harmony; it's as close to their features as film can get. The way how Alain Resnais approaches cinema is cubist (Resnais was incredibly fascinated with visual arts, and made a few documentaries about artists in his early days). He breaks his film into pieces and re-organizes the parts according to a higher logic than chronology. The pieces of the protagonist's life are given to the viewer without any chronological order, and we are at times inevitably forced to destroy our puzzle and start building it all over again. The rules of continuity are broken continuously, in every turn, and this is the core of the Nouvelle Vague; to change, to develop and put the limitations of cinema to the test. Nonetheless, despite Resnais breaks the rules of continuity, the film somehow works as an integrated entirety -- much more integrated compared to the earlier films by Resnais.
The repeat of the title "I Love You, I Love You" reflects the repetition of emotions -- the title refers to the repetition of events. The protagonist is forced to experience his past again and again, while being trapped in a time capsule -- in between of past and presence. But living these events again and again isn't nearly as distressing as the agony and pain caused by love. In the presence, he is forced to love the dead Catrine -- he's a prisoner of love. He loves her, loves her and there is no redemption for this everlasting pain that love occurs; suicide is the only way out from this prison, but it doesn't work out either. Experiencing the suicide all over again only leads him to the same place; to the table surrounded by scientists.
The small mouse, who shared the capsule with the man, visited the man's presence. The man wondered if he could sometime visit the mouse's. What does the last freeze-frame of the mouse pushing its nose through the blow-hole of the dome indicate? Is the mouse a prisoner of the man's past and forced to live his past again and again. The mouse is trapped in a narrow place -- in a dome. Is the dome same for the mouse as love is for the man? The mouse tries to breath but at times it's just so incredibly difficult.
I had anticipated a complex film, it's what fans of it insist, instead it's the most simple of Resnais' features I have seen. We see here a life rearranged out of time, a love affair, a death. We see how the lovers met, what idle or affectionate time they shared on the same bed, how they hoped or thought to communicate and know one another but probably didn't, the man's struggles to maintain the closeness in the relationship and his failure to do so. We see how they grew apart and broke up, and what happened of them.
Resnais' touch is that we don't see any of this in that order, rather as convalescent images relived, as though there might not be pattern there. But once the novelty plays out, he doesn't take it far enough. He has to rely on montage for all this, and acquits himself rather well. When they break up, he doesn't follow the scene with something from older, happier times, the contrast would've been much too easy, instead he gives us an anonymous scene from a time inbetween where she's crying on his shoulder.
It's a simple film only because it comes by the hand of Resnais. In retrospect he was perhaps unlucky to make Hiroshima mon Amour his debut. And as followup, the complete, perfect abstraction of it. What was left for him to go next?
Going back in time with the man allows us to glimpse fragments of his deteriorating home life and of the romantic dalliances he engages in to spice things up and make his existence tolerable. It is challenging to piece together who met whom, when, but whatever plot exists in the innumerable and disjointed flashbacks consists of the man meeting, talking with and bedding several women. There is his mistress of 7 years, a woman who often seems like the dictionary definition of depression and whose wailing and gnashing of teeth grow exceedingly tiresome for her lover as well as the audience. There are two other women -- I think there are two, but may be wrong since it is quite hard to tell -- who are uncharacteristically tolerant of his incessant commentary on his lover's emotional problems and his ultimately unorthodox response to those problems.
While all of this is going on the various corporate scientists are monitoring developments but cannot seem to bring themselves to do anything to intervene. This seems unrealistic but it would of course hinder the time travel of the protagonist if he were stabilized once again in the movie's present tense. Thus the scientists wring their hands unconvincingly and the time travel goes on until its rather interesting denouement.
This is not a bad movie but calling it a "masterpiece" as some reviewers do seems excessive to me. It's worth watching, but don't see it on a day when you're depressed because it may exaggerate your symptoms to an unhealthy degree. Whether you love it or not, this was decidedly not the feel-good movie of 1968.
Claude Ridder (played by Claude Rich), who has held many different office jobs, has recently survived a suicide attempt. When leaving the sanitarium, Claude is approached by creepy members of a secret organization which is conducting time-travel experiments. At the remote facility he is encouraged to allow the scientists to transport him back a year in time for a minute. The scientists tell him that they have successfully conducted this experiment with lab mice and now need him for the first human trial. A few days later, Claude and a mouse (in a small container) enter the Time Machine (which looks like a human brain from the outside). The Time Machine (TM) starts up. Woopsit immediately begins skipping like a dirty CD. While the scientists outside the TM lament their inability to stop it, Claude begins reliving short segments of his past randomly without end. He can exit the TM only after decompressing for four minutes; but the endlessly-looping Time Machine keeps interrupting the closing sequence. The repeated perspective of a large brain in the background with anxious scientists in the foreground worried about the brain's condition comments upon brainwashing.
It takes a while, but Claude's often repetitive flashbacks eventually reveal why he attempted suicide. A year ago Claude was on a Scotland vacation when his comely girlfriend Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot) died. The two were an exceptionally attractive couple. Nevertheless, she had been the one was always seriously depressed (long before Claude was). The two represent different types of depression. Catrina seems to be bipolar; while occasionally happy she invariably finds little about life to make her struggle worthwhile. Claude's state of mind is more connected with Catrina's poor mental health and inevitable death. He harbors feelings of guilt out of the belief he killed her.
The world-weary conversation between the two is usually compelling. Some of us wonder how exceptionally beautiful people can ever be suicidal. Catrina's enervated dialogue is even more heart-breaking when we consider that the stunning Olga Georges-Picot is playing herself. In real life, she struggled with depression for decades. (Unlike Claude Ridder's try, Olga Georges-Picot's 1997 suicide attempt did not fail.)
Visually, Resnais is superb. His color choices and use of the entire frame are remarkable. One often has the feeling of being in an art museum when viewing some of the imagery on display. The haunting, Gothic (and possibly Satanic) soundtrack from Krzysztof Penderecki is also very distinctive.
Catrina and Claude both share the belief that life is unendurable and look forward to an end to their suffering. Resnais has a cruel surprise in store for Claude: It turns out there won't be an escape to his torments. Cinephiles who don't mind putting in some effort should find out why. However, if you chose to arrive to the revival theater showing this by Time Machine please make sure it is under warranty.
Resnais plays with time here and films directly what happens in the conscious of the protagonist. Impossible to place in time and place a linear narrative from the short fragmatic bursts of scenes. Eventually these scenes, disposed and diced, give the mesh or framework leading to his eventual suicide attempt. To make things more confusing it is possible that some scenes are in fact his fantasies and he didn't live them at all.
I like very much films that deal with time and space when handled by great directors. You leave the cinema often slightly confused as you are thrown back into reality. The film calls for a lot of reflection.
Therein lies the film's crucial rub: the notion that pasting together a bunch of often unrelated or only vaguely related scenes in an almost random order can somehow make for riveting cinema. The movie drags on and on, and the tedium rarely lets up. One keeps hoping that eventually the director gets tired of his collage-like approach, but he never does. Yes, we get it; this isn't a conventional time-travel sci-fi but a semi-pretentious psychological drama with plenty of fortune-cookie philosophy hoping to pass of as profound insight into life's many mysteries. Or is it just a pointless analysis of the downfall of a skinny Frenchman? Bla bla bla bla. Big f-ing deal. The whole existential shtick is some kind of a loony obsession by France's New Wave buffoons, and gets old fairly quickly (except the cat hypothesis).
JTJT is also typical of many French dramas from the 60s and 70s: 1) the male protagonist is skinny, 2) he sleeps around with attractive women, 3) he is unfaithful, 4) his unfaithfulness is portrayed as commendable and a badge of honour not to mention proof of high machismo, 5) he is way out of the league of all the women he sleeps with and yet he somehow gets them into bed despite not being a wealthy man, 6) all the women he has affairs with are half his age (admittedly, that's a small difference; many French films have an age ratio of 56:15 i.e. a 56 year-old man dating a 15 year-old Lolita), 7) at least one of the characters is a hobby philosopher, constantly musing about this fascinating world, and 8) the skinny Frenchman cheats on his attractive women rather than the other way round, which would make a whole lot more sense.
How many women have any of you ever met that constantly philosophize about the world? Who make up unusual theories about the world? Exactly: you don't know any and you've never met anyone who has ever known such a woman. It is characteristic of French movies to be cut off from reality, i.e. how real people behave. God forbid a Frenchwoman in a French drama should talk about shopping all the time that would be too realistic (though in this case no duller than most of the conversation pieces we're subjected to). After all, French movies are to the most part male fantasies disguised as meaningful dramas, to varying extents: either the middle-aged male protagonist dates women in their 20s or those in their early teens; that's the only difference. Also, sometimes the male protagonist is bald and ugly, whereas sometimes he is merely skinny and average-looking, as is the case here. But essentially it's the same shtick over and over: male fantasies told in a number of more-or-less not-that-different ways: this time it's time-travel, but Resnais could just as well have picked a costume drama, or a rundown post-office.
By the time the plot's tempo finally shifts from turtle speed to occasional frog-hops (baby frog), I'd lost interest. Claude's time-travel maze is hardly a cinematic extravaganza. Instead, the time-hopping is filmed and offered in such a dry, lazy and sterile manner that it makes a mockery of the genre term "sci-fi". The photography is fairly poor for its period, the hundreds of scene-changes were glued together in a dull, unexciting manner, and the characters are neither interesting nor likable. It's hard to give a toss about this man; he is neither fascinating nor a man of high morals. So why give us this much insight into his life? Given a choice between a more conventional time-travel flick and a lame character drama, the choice is simple at least given THIS kind of dialogue, this director's lack of imagination (or sheer incompetence?), and the non-exceptional cast.
Catherine's "God as Cat" idea, however, is quite good. (She says that God might have created the cat in his own image, and then created man to serve the cat.) It would certainly explain why cats rule the world, whereas French movies don't.
A clever twist would have been the revelation that the team of bored-looking scientists had in fact used this man for the experiment over and over, time and time again, leaving the movie in a sort of endless loop. Obviously, some scenes at the beginning would have to be re-written, and it's not terribly original either, but at least that would give us SOMETHING as a conclusion. As it is, we find out that the experiment had failed (well, not really: he did travel to the past, didn't he? So why was everyone so down on themselves?) and that's pretty much it. Not enough by a long shot.
I shall now explain to you why this movie has such a high average. It is because it is a French drama made in the 60s (although any other period would do) and by a left-wing French director. If this had been an American drama, with the exact same kind of dreariness and Philosophy for Beginners 101, it would have had a much lower rating. That's because movie-goers generally so against prejudice are prejudiced against American cinema, while prejudiced in favour of French, Iranian and Swedish ones. Stupidity and confusion have many manifestations, and this is but one of many.
Alain Resnais devotes his time here in presenting who the main character was instead of focusing in the utility of a time travel projects, which reveals to be quite empty since it's very risky, actions can't be altered, everything is doubtful and flawed. It deconstructs the character through random flashbacks, completely out of order and very repetitive, almost like waking up every morning in "Groundhog Day" (instead of punching the clock alarm, the recurring scene is a happier moment of the man coming out of the sea talking about the fishes he saw there, a tender moment with his lover). Sometimes it goes forward when it's time to explain what truly happened with his woman, by the time everything gets deeply confusing and a little more frightening.
This movie's concept is great, but there isn't much gain when you don't have answers to some questions, and above all it's lack of a true purpose makes of "Je'Taime, Je'Taime" ("I Love You, I Love You") something remotely interesting, difficult to endure and more off than on. I loved the fact of this being a sci-fi movie that doesn't circulates with scientifical mambo jambo, it's more humanistic in this aspect. But in the real human level it's very brainy, exquisite, lacking in heart, passion and exceeding in small talks and distractive actions. I didn't fell anything for the couple, the fragments of what they had in common wasn't enough for me to develop any kind of feeling for them; the man, on the other hand, was a brilliant and tragic character with genuine emotions, slightly uncertain why he went ahead in joining the test, enjoying in revive the life he had but at the same time hating the awkward experience of not seeing things as they were, with clarity - the machine, the drugs taken interfere in everything, causing him some pain. We ask ourselves if we would do something like that.
Technically fascinating with its unusual editing (for the time) but a little dead inside, this is a nice film that surely leaves you thinking but not much loving and dreaming and wanting more. Would benefit of an American remake, but too bad some would see it as a clone of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". 6/10