Thursday, 25 March 2010

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

Synopsis: Married French woman and married Japanese man enjoy a passionate night together in Hiroshima before she recounts the experience of her first love - a German soldier. Themes of devastating loss, love, and the fickle nature of memory.

Alain Resnais' film is a story of interweaving themes of memories, from the tragedy of the Hirsoshima bomb right down to the micro level of a couple of strangers enjoying a night together and then reflecting on memories of love. There is also some seriously nice photography in this film, not only of post-war Hiroshima architecture but also of the couple and their embraces.

The introduction of the film sees the woman recounting information about what she has seen in Hiroshima and the man challenging her memories. We hear this in voiceover and the images are a combination of 1959 Hiroshima, post-bomb and its after effects and images of the couple embracing. This odd juxtaposition is set up with the opening shot, showing the skin of the couple glimmering, shimmering and being showered with what looks like glitter. This is then echoed in the images of Hiroshima victims' burnt and bubbling skin.

For the viewer this is a strong but odd connection to make - on the one hand we're witness to a brief but intense love affair and on the other we are faced with images of mass human devastation. This connection of memory and war reminded me of the War Memorial favourite phrase Lest we Forget and as we move through the film we are shown in parrallel how victims of Hiroshima are keeping alive the memories and effects of the bomb and how the woman struggles to keep alive the memories of her first love, both traumatic events.

The story was written by Marguerite (The Lover) Duras, and the erotic element is tangible but, as the film was made in 1959, fairly restrained. The start of the film is partly taken up with shots of the couple in the midst of their lovemaking, however this is not your usual soft focus, Vaseline-on-the-lense, Sylvia Kristel erotic film making. We are seeing the couple from above, with an intense spotlight on the man's back, with the woman's arms embracing him. We also see her hands caressing him and both of their arms entangling. So much is left out, unseen, but the bits that are seen are beautifully shot and point to so much more desire than, say, standard Hollywood love scenes.

As we watch the couple move through the following day and night, things start to unravel. The woman is quite happy to leave their one night stand as just that, but the man wants more and this is so disquieting to the woman that this sets off the real core of the film. The man's persistence (and contstant questioning of her past loves) forces the woman to confront memories of her first love and in the middle section of the film, we see the couple drinking whilst the woman recounts the story of this first love, during the war, with a German soldier. As such, the affair was illicit and upon discovery of being in love with a German (and his subsequent death and liberation of her home town), the woman recounts how she was made an outcast and kept in a cellar, going mad with grief and shock. Once again, a taboo love affair is linked explicitly with the traumas of war.

The woman's voiceover at the beginning, talking through her memories of Hiroshima, also speaks directly to the man. She is contradictory in the things she says to him, at one point saying "You are killing me, you are good for me". I loved this sentiment. There is a great honesty about her feelings at this point, that at the same time as someone can be the most important person in the world, they can also be the most inappropriate.

The final act of the film did drag a wee bit for me, as the couple keep returning to her memories and going to and from a bar to her room. However, this doesn't really distract from the overall powerful theme of the desperate struggle with memories of life changing events.

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