"You have seen nothing in Hiroshima." "I have seen everything in Hiroshima." These are two of the most immediately recognisable lines of dialogue in the history of 20th century cinema. Over 50 years later, the film where they were first spoken remains quite like nothing else ever done in modern film - a singularity not only for its time and position in history, but also in the career of its filmmakers, director Alain Resnais - whose debut feature this was - and novelist Marguerite Duras - who had never written for the screen before. Mr. Resnais has continued to explore the mysterious realms of love and memory in the narrative puzzles of his stellar career, though never quite with the dramatic urgency, the nearly powerless seriousness which he displays in Hiroshima mon amour. Ms. Duras, whose work straddled writing and cinema, has seldom attained again the forbidden heights of Hiroshima, even though she came very close in the wondrous India Song.

     For all the abstract, angular, shapes this presents as it unfolds in the shape of an allegorical play using the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima as a starting point, at its heart this is a love story: that of an actress (Emmanuelle Riva) whose presence in the city (to shoot a film for peace) and liaison with a local architect (Eiji Okada) rekindles her memories of a forbidden wartime love with a German soldier. Ms. Riva is remarkable as this woman yearning to move forward but finding herself unable to in a city where everything reminds her of the hometown she abandoned as a pariah. That the personal and the political, the "little history" and the "big History" are so intertwined together is also something that replaces Hiroshima mon amour in its proper context, as a contemporary of the artistic earthquake known as Nouvelle Vague that swept French cinema in the late 1950s/1960s, and as a manifestation of the post-war uneasiness that pervaded society and art.

     Though not as playful as Mr. Resnais' later work, this is definitely a forerunner of his experiments with narrative strategies, having started out as a documentary project that eventually metamorphosed into a fiction using the tragic fate of the city as a wider symptom of the world it lives in; Hiroshima mon amour itself starts out like an apparent documentary slowly contaminated by the narrative arc Ms. Duras created, itself connected to her trademarks of women at odds with the rules of society. That tightrope is part of what maintains the film so resolutely contemporary in a landscape where the borders between fiction and non-fiction are blurrier by the hour, but even if they weren't there, very little in Hiroshima has dated; it remains as stark and impressive, as touching and demanding, as it was in 1959.

Cast: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud, Bernard Fresson
Director: Alain Resnais
Screenwriter: Marguerite Duras
Cinematography: Sacha Vierny, Michio Takahashi  (b&w)
Music: Georges Delerue, Giovanni Fusco
Designers: Minoru Esaka, Antoine "Mayo" Mallianakis, Pétri
Costumes: Gérard Collery
Editors: Henri Colpi, Jasmine Chasney, Anne Sarraute
Production: Argos Films, Como Films, Daiei Motion Picture Company, Pathé Overseas Productions
France/Japan, 1959, 90 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, December 30th 2013


Popular Posts