Director Alain Resnais debut feature is truly an influential film, mostly as it was a cornerstone of the French New Wave
A brief yet intense affair between a Japanese architect [Eiji Okada] and a French actress played by Emmanuelle Riva who meet in Hiroshima, the film explores the complex relationships between the past present and future after one of the worlds great catastrophic moments. The levels of fascination with Hiroshima that consume them compel them to exorcise their own very scarred memories of love and suffering. So, personal pain and public anguish are beautifully woven together in this moody masterpiece.
The film utilises an innovative flashback structure to great effect with wandering thoughts, in chronology and setting all adding to the balance and healing qualities of the films central relationship; add in the Academy Award-nominated, classic stream-of-consciousness style screenplay by novelist Marguerite Duras and you have a set of tremendous credentials.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, he has always refused to write his own screenplays and has attached great importance to the contribution of his chosen writer, whose status in the shared "authorship" of the film he fully acknowledges. A film that wonderfully grafts cinema technique with literature and is a story, which all takes place in a twenty four hour period, about beginnings and endings; about rebirth following tragedy. For the cast and for the audience this is all about facing the things that made us what we are; probing subtle home truths isn’t easy or comfortable. Also uneasy viewing is the scenes of Hiroshoma bombing victims from August 6, 1945, which tells us that their story-particularly their love affair-is rooted in an act of unimaginable destruction.
To the characters the personal acts of destruction are perhaps personally more traumatic and pivotal than the war itself. A sense of guilt at having survived when others were killed pervades their characters and their relationship too. The film argues that the foundation of love is something more sacred and more sensible than the surface attraction. It is often a person's deepest sense of failure, fear, or inadequacy that defines who that person really is and how they relate to others.
Some important questions are raised: What defines a person's identity, success or failure? What else does war destroy besides physical things such as people, materials, and the environment?
The film was originally a commissioned piece about the atomic bomb but after some months decided he did not want to recreate his 1955 documentary ‘Night and Fog’ and so Hiroshima Mon Amour was born. Apart for the Academy Award nomination it received a special award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, where the film was excluded from the official selection because of its sensitive subject matter as well as to avoid upsetting the American government.
New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard described the film's inventiveness as ‘Faulkner plus Stravinsky’ and celebrated its originality, calling it "the first film without any cinematic references". Something film writer James Monaco disagrees, suggesting the film contains references to the 1942 Michael Curtiz classic, ‘Casablanca’. Indeed Resnais' original experiments with very brief flashback sequences intercut into scenes to suggest the idea of a brief flash of memory was later reused by the filmmaker in his film, ‘Last Year in Marienbad’
Resnais’ career has lasted more than six decades, often adopting unconventional narrative techniques to help him deal with themes of troubled memory and imagined pasts. Although his films were connected to the French New Wave, Resnais himself had already been working in short documentary films and had closer links to the ‘Left Bank Group’, who shared a love of modernism and all had an interest in left-wing politics.
Frequent criticism of Resnais's films among English-language commentators has centered on the emotionally cold nature of the films as they see it – that they are all about technique without grasp of character or subject, that his understanding of beauty is compromised by a lack of sensuousness. American writer and filmmaker, literary icon, and political activist, Susan Sontag, writing in Film Quarterly, said of the filmmaker, "Resnais knows all about beauty. But, unlike Bresson and Godard and Truffaut, he lacks sensuousness. And this, in a film-maker, is a fatal deficiency".
Resnais himself has commented on the nature of what interests him about filmmaking: "I prefer to speak of the imaginary, or of consciousness. What interests me in the mind is that faculty we have to imagine what is going to happen in our heads, or to remember what has happened". His experimentation with narrative forms and genre conventions has certainly been the central focus of his films. Hiroshima Mon Amour’s take on the transitory nature of existence is forcefully presented by inter-cutting the early scenes with post-bombing stills and quasi-realistic newsreel footage – a powerful juxtaposition. This results in a film that is chronologically obscure, a reflection of the toll of personal memories - of how the past subtly, but invariably, affects us - and forever alters our behavior.
Hiroshima mon amour is a highly stylized, tightly interwoven tale of lost love, a uniquely realized story of collective conscience: of regret and survival, loss and reconstruction...of nations and people.
In a prophetic remark filmmaker Eric Rohmer said, "I think that in a few years, in ten, twenty, or thirty years, we will know whether Hiroshima mon amour was the most important film since the war, the first modern film of sound cinema". He was correct!