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The pinnacle of French new wave
on 30 September 2016
If you like patting yourself on the back for being a cineaste, then Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) is for you.
The narrative’s only certainty, is, there are three characters: A (Delphine Seyrig), X (Giorgio Albertazzi) our narrator, and M (Sacha Pitoëff). What happens after that is unfathomable. At a lush mansion, X is trying to convince A they’ve met before, a year ago in Marienbad, and had an affair. A either doesn’t remember, doesn’t want to remember, or it never happened... Or it isn’t happening now.
This film felt like reading Virginia Woolf, I don’t understand a lot of it, yet I’ve exercised my mind. Is it entertaining? That’s a difficult question to answer, but probably no. Is it enjoyable? Yes!
The craft of filmmaking is at the highest level. Set design as lush as any court of a French King; costumes designed by Bernard Evein are slick, elegant and chic, as would be expected in a French film; Sacha Vierny’s cinematography is as crisp as spring; and all actors show the greatest non-reacting acting. It’s the innovative script by Alain Robbe-Grillet that makes this film high cinema: story and plot are deliberately fragmented, giving the overall narrative a deliciously confusing tone.
To compare it would be like trying to find something that rhymes with orange. But watching it reminded me of other films later on that, although I can’t be certain, might have been influenced: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
I admired and adored Last Year at Marienbad. If you want something different to flex your brain power, then give this a try.