The French New Wave was a movement that nobody in cinema will ever fully forget, but I don’t believe that a lot of people know what it is that they are remembering (or partially forgetting). These innovators created something for the world that people are re-discovering all the time, and that is the idea that a story doesn’t necessarily have to be the focal point, but rather the way the story is told. This idea allows the ability to tell stories in a whole new way through the chronology, the view point, or the perceived reality of individual characters. These ideas were dealt with before in more rudimentary ideas, but these young French upstarts, who were cinephiles themselves, looked at all the sources through which performances and imagery are derived in a film and came up with ways to bring them to the forefront of the movie. More recent films like Memento and Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, where the concept of individual reality is put into the spotlight, are still indeed innovative, but they owe a large debt to films like the one I watched today, Hiroshima Mon Amour.
Elle is a married French actress. She is shooting a film about peace in the broken city of Hiroshima. She hides a great deal of pain behind her eyes, as if promoting peace is wounding her. One night, while trying to unwind, she meets Lui, a married Japanese architect. He is intriguing to her, as he also hides the same pain behind his eyes. They spend the night together, talking about the pains the war inflicted on them. Elle recalls her first love, a German soldier in her hometown of Nevers. Lui recalls his family here in Hiroshima before the bomb dropped. The two create something together as they entwined that one special night, a beautiful collage of memory, melancholy, and the fear that all love is perhaps destined for annihilation. Are these two falling in love with each other? If they are, are they falling in love with one another, or the rekindling of their buried memories and long-forgotten feelings? Can such a splendorous thing like love bloom from the ashes of Hiroshima?
Director Alain Resnais is a master of the war film, but not in the traditional sense. Many of his films document he struggle of those who live on after the war, those who lost something other than their lives. This is a wonderful picture documenting the lives of hurt people, people who continue living but whose emotions keep them always hovering over the grave. Elle has a lost love and Lui a lost family, and they cope with that by leaning on one another. Is that love? And if it is, is it not doomed, as they are both married? What can flourish between these two? Questions abound, but this picture isn’t giving any easy answers. It is intimate and unknowable at the same time, and therein lies its greatness.
The use of flashbacks is something that had never been done to such a powerful cinematic effect. We are taken to the present and the past as if they were the same thing, and perhaps they are for the people who cannot move on. In 1959, the flashback was used almost exclusively for exposition purposes and to get a point across. Resnais had the notion that maybe ideas could be supplanted via this device. Keep track of the flashback sequences here because they are some of the best you may ever see.
Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada are the couple of Elle and Lui. They constitute a bond that is deep but ephemeral, strong but impossible to sustain, and they perform all this with ease. It is amazing to watch these two interact with one another. These are characters that are important to them, and you can tell that by the real hurt displayed in their eyes. The performances ring true, and you can’t ask for much more than that. I would go more into detail about the cast, but there is nobody else really but these two. It is a movie set in a desolate city populated by shadows burned to the walls, so the intimacy is that much starker.
It is something simple to watch a movie and be entertained. It is another thing to watch a film like Hiroshima Mon Amour and be asked to think and discuss with others. There are many layers to this seemingly simple film, but the answers are never too far away from the pounding in your chest. I have nothing but good things to say about this film. I highly recommend it, and I’d love to hear what you think about it as well. I give Hiroshima Mon Amour 9 1/2 bombed-out Japanese cities out of 10. Simply amazing!
Tomorrow, we dive right off of The Bridge On The River Kwai!