NYFF52: The Films that Bookend the Career of a Master

Alain Resnais, NYC, 12/12/80

Alain Resnais, NYC, 12/12/80

Before the NYFF52 press screening of “Hiroshima Mon Amour” I turned to tell Nora Lee who always sits behind me for the unobstructed view of the screen–I slouch (“in the sports car like in the cinema,” as a Godard heroine said)–that I was really excited, having never seen Alain Resnais’ first feature (and first masterpiece).  She said it was a first for her too and that now she could cross it off her bucket list.  And that’s the type of people we are–while others have sky diving, driving on the salt flats, swimming with sharks, we have dark rooms filled and glowing with masterpieces of world cinema.

In Cahiers du Cinema 97, July 1959, Jaquette Rivette (in a conversation that included other immortals, Rohmer and Godard), said, “Resnais’ great obsession, if I may use that word, is the sense of the splitting of primary unity–the world is broken up, fragmented into a series of tiny pieces, and it has to be put back together again like a jigsaw…”

“Hiroshima Mon Amour” fills the screen with black and white shots of atrocity, mutilated bodies and a ruined city (“iron made vulnerable as flesh”), before framing on two beautiful bodies, entwined in a hotel room bed, heard talking (in startling voice-over) about Hiroshima, where they are.  It is August 1957.   The world has been split into before the bomb and after; the lovers, a French woman, an actress (Emmanuelle Riva), and a Japanese man, an architect (Eiji Okada), unnamed, simply he/Hiroshima and she/Nevers, are split too, into before and after their chance meeting and love affair.

She leaves him in the morning.  But that afternoon, with her return to France imminent (the film she was working on has been completed), he finds her on the set and they spend the day and night, wandering through the city, coming together and splitting apart, talking about their happy lives with spouses and children, and her lost, reviled love for a German soldier at 16, during the war, and 14 years later, their monumental love, that’s being lost as it’s happening.

To create “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” which Eric Rohmer, in the same Cahiers du Cinema conversation, called, “a film about which you can say everything,” Resnais worked with Marguerite Duras, writer (screenplay and dialogue); Sacha Vierny, cinematographer; Georges Delerue, music; and Anatole Dauman, producer.

Alain Resnais died in March at 91.  His final film, the quick and clever, and ultimately joyous “Life of Riley,” completed in 2013, is  included in the Main Slate.  Based on Alan Ackybourn’s play, “Relatively Speaking,” it uses highly stylized sets (with cut-outs of flowers and bushes and flowing fabric) and paintings of the locations (as well as actual footage of the English countryside) as establishing shots.  Close-ups of the actors on cross-hatched background, make them seem like superheroes in comic strips.

A group of friends with a long history are rehearsing a play for an amateur theater production when they find out that George, another member of their circle, is terminally ill.  The news upsets the emotional balance within and among the couples.  The nimble cast including Resnais regulars, the always wonderful Sabine Azéma (his wife) and the equally fine André Dussollier, moves briskly though the plot complications and emotional melt-downs caused by George (much talked about but unseen throughout). His situation and behavior (both during rehearsals and the women’s visits to help with the housekeeping), shake up the relationships, until lost equilibrium is restored to the couples. The great director’s career ends with a story of renewed love.

“Hiroshima Mon Amour,” unseen theatrically for decades, will screen in a gorgeous new 4K  restoration on Friday, October 10, 6:00 pm, at the Walter Reade Theater and will open on Friday, October 17 in New York at Film Forum and at Film Society’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, and in Los Angeles.

“Life of Riley,” will screen on Friday, October 10, 9:00 pm, at the Walter Reade Theater and on Saturday, October 11, 2:00 pm, at the Francesca Beale Theater in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and will open on Friday, October 24 in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, followed by a release to select cities.

“Alain Resnais: Time, Memory and Imagination,” the French Institute/Alliance Français’ new CinéSalon series, continues through October 28.

Sabine Azéma, NYC, 10/2/87

Sabine Azéma, NYC, 10/2/87


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