Monday, March 3, 2014
Alain Resnais (1922-2014)
The directors of the "French New Wave" who emerged more than fifty years ago were an energetic bunch. They have tended to work until they dropped, and it's often taken a while for them to drop. So it was with Resnais, who died last weekend at age 91, less than one month after premiering his latest feature and winning a prize at the Berlin Film Festival -- Americans will most likely see it later this year. Resnais was an established documentarian who made the leap to feature fiction with 1959's Hiroshima Mon Amour, which made Amour's Emmanuelle Riva an international star as a young woman. His signature film is his second feature, Last Year at Marienbad, which has challenged viewers ever since to figure out the truth of its cryptic story of memory and alienation (here's my attempt). Marienbad was a milestone of the golden age of international cinema in American art houses, promoted in some markets as as much a fashion statement as an intellectual mystery. I haven't seen as many of Resnais's movies as I perhaps should have; the one I'd most like to see is his 1974 biopic Stavisky, about a 1930s financial-political scandal. Of those I have seen, my second-favorite after Marienbad is La Guerre est Finie, a kind of psychological political thriller about a demoralized but not disillusioned (or is it the other way around?) exile from Franco's Spain. He worked in a lighter vein in later years; his penultimate picture translates as You Aint Seen Nothin' Yet. An old man's irony or perhaps wishful thinking? Still, he got one more film made, so I guess he told the truth. His place in cinema history, of course, was already long secure.