A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.
In a huge, old-fashioned luxury hotel a stranger tries to persuade a married woman to run away with him, but it seems she hardly remembers the affair they may have had (or not?) last year at Marienbad.Written by
Otto Oberhauser <Oberhauser@cc.univie.ac.at>
When the Man X tells to the Female A that she is at his grasp, but still unreachable, he shows her a sculpture of Tantalus who tries to reach a grape. Tantalus was a a Greek mythological figure punished to suffer eternally in Tartarus by standing in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink. See more »
Exterior night scenes were shot day-for-night, but the sky and reflections of it were allowed in the frame, and they appear as bright white instead of black. This may have been intentional to emphasize the surreality of the film. See more »
The grounds of the hotel were symmetrically arranged, without trees or flowers, or plants of any kind. The gravel, the stone, and the marble were spread in strict array in unmysterious shapes. At first sight, it seemed impossible to lose your way. At first sight... Along these stone paths and amidst these statues, where you were already losing your way forever in the still night, alone with me.
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Want a precious hint? Read the novella "La Jalousie" by Robbe-Grillet
It's useless to speculate on the "real" meaning of this dream-like movie that is an investigation on the mechanics of memory, and has the absolutely unique feature of allowing as many interpretations as there have been viewers since it opened to change cinematic grammar, decades ago. I've seen it 4 or 5 times over a span of some 25 years and still find it sumptuously directed, endlessly fascinating, eerie, one of my favorite movies of all time, and above all, an O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L !! Every movie ever made since "Marienbad" has a direct or indirect debt to it, as it abandoned (and subverted) objective story-telling tradition and entered the realm of total subjectivity, challenging movie audiences' intelligence, attention and perception. Of course, it's not meant for viewers who associate movies with light entertainment, though anyone who's ever wondered about his/her own mnemonic idiosyncrasies -- the diffuse, random, inaccurate way we recall facts and sometimes even mix them with imagined stuff -- surely COULD relate to this masterpiece.
There has been many conjectures as to the subject and the plot. Well, if you want a good hint, let me give you a precious one: read the novella "La Jalousie" (Jealousy, 1957), by Alain Robbe-Grillet, who is also the screenwriter of "Marienbad". "La Jalousie" is the thematic and "ideological" inspiration for "Marienbad".
Robbe-Grillet (one of the top names of the French "Nouveau Roman" movement along with Nathalie Sarraute, Marguerite Duras, Michel Butor, etc), was a former agronomist/ mathematician (and his writing shows it) who became a writer/filmmaker with a very personal, geometrical, unemotional, descriptive style. The novella "La Jalousie", like most Nouveau Roman books, is essentially cinematic in their approach of characters and plot, functioning like a film camera, a non-opinionated unobtrusive observer, but insightfully revealing in its "detachment".
His novella "La Jalousie" is a fascinating, maze-like circular construction, in which beginning and end mingle many times over, each time from a different perspective, just like observing a house or a sculpture from different angles one at a time -- which means each angle is only partially accurate, revealing but a portion of the truth, while hiding another. The "observer/narrator" in the book (the husband, but written in the third person - "he") tries to locate in PLACE and TIME the precise moment in which the feeling of jealousy arises in him as he tries to find the extent of his wife's relationship with another man (a.k.a. the threesome in the film). Did an affair really happen? Is it yet going to happen? Or is it his imagination, his suspicion, just his jealous feeling? (btw, this is the same theme as Proust's incomparable masterpiece "La Prisonnière", treated in antipodal, totally psychological, but equally obsessive style).
As in most "Nouveau Roman" novels, the notion of TIME in "La Jalousie" (and also in "Marienbad") is transformed and deformed; the approach of the characters is non-psychological, meaning that thoughts and outbursts of emotion are not dealt with, only the description of places, words, gestures and actions. Everything (even a very strong feeling like the birth of jealousy) is apprehended only through the observation of external facts: small gestures, the position of a chair or a table, a glass found full or empty, an unexpected sound, the way the woman combs her hair or looks at herself in the mirror, a suddenly unusual way of getting up or sitting down which leads to the husband's perception that something has suddenly, dangerously, definitely changed.
Well, it made very much sense to me that language-experimentalist book-worm Alain Resnais (think of all of his movies which were based on literature) and his fascination with memory and the brain (think "Hiroshima Mon Amour", "Je t'Aime Je t'Aime" and "Mon Oncle d'Amérique") should venture in constructing this film in visual terms using the geometrical structure of the novel (hence the breathtaking serpentine camera movements), with no beginning or end, respecting its "external", non-psychological, non-motivational approach of the characters and the plot, never condescending to "explanations".
See the film and read the book! I'm sure that, if you've liked (or been baffled by) the film on a first viewing, you'll have many insights on a second viewing of this absorbing, totally fascinating movie after reading the book on which it is structurally/esthetically based. While it's not essential to do so, it could be kind of a bonus! What else can I say? A definitive, revolutionary, undisputed film classic - 10/10
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