Saturday, July 23, 2011

Short Rants on Last Year at Marienbad

Last Year at Marienbad was exactly the sort of pretentious, "high intellect" art film I expected Alain Resnais' earlier Hiroshima, Mon Amour to be but was not. The film has some gorgeous photography, a bombastic organ score that almost makes Inception's look puny in comparison and at least one thrilling sequence that makes its 90 minute runtime much easier to sit through. All that aside, Marienbad is basically a film about nothing, even moreso than Seinfeld was a show about nothing: a man meets a woman at a hotel, tells her they met last year in Marienbad (or Frederiksbad, although it doesn't really matter) and that they had made plans to run off together a year later. The woman spends the next 90 minutes deciding whether or not she had, in fact, met this man, as he tells her about scattered memories of the two of them from their time together. By the end of the film, it doesn't even matter whether or not they had met as the woman must now decide whether or not she will leave her husband and run off with this man. This renders the entire film before it pointless, although many high-and-mighty critics may argue that it was never really the point of the film. A good point, as there are a high number of excellent films that reveal much more than a threadbare plot suggests. But, as critic Pauline Kael suggests in her amazing essay "The Come-Dressed-As-The-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties," "It is one thing to cut out the unnecessary mechanical transitions of film (as Godard did in Breathless), but Resnais cuts away something that is basic to drama--our caring about the characters and what they do." Who ultimately cares if these people had met in Marienbad or Frederiksbad or wherever else? And who ultimately cares if they do run off together? The man and the woman are meant to be universal characters, but that doesn't mean they have to be so universally one-note and dull. This is the fate Resnais worked so diligently to escape with Hiroshima simply because you cared what happened to Emmanuelle Riva's character over the course of the film. In the end, Marienbad, with its haunting score and searing camera movements, ultimately becomes an experiment in film technique. Or a failed attempt at representing free-flowing memories in film form. Perhaps. Either way, it doesn't really matter. C

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