Published Jan 10, 2013After achieving near universal acclaim for the 1955 Holocaust documentary short, Night and Fog, French New Wave pioneer Alain Resnais was commissioned to make another documentary about the nuclear bomb. Being familiar with the writings of French philosophers like Roland Barthes and having his own perspective of post--analysis, Resnais was uninterested in recreating a similar documentary, but was curious to explore the nature of the medium and how perception and memory might influence an informative text.
The resulting experimental narrative, Hiroshima, mon amour, which blended documentary elements of the Hiroshima bombing with the intimate affair between a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada), was indirectly a catalyst for the pretentious French New Wave movement. Freed from the context of cinematic reference, its stylistic abandon and unprecedented, oblique non-linear narrative inspired other, more cerebrally motivated, film directors at the time, ushering in a new, deliberately challenging, cinematic status quo in 1960s France.
Opening with images of bomb victims and museum artefacts—twisted metal, clumps of hair and fused objects—a voiceover from the nameless female actress asserts an understanding of the tragedy through research and in-depth exploration that we similarly perceive as a passive audience. Her unnamed male counterpart frequently interrupts her, noting that she cannot understand a first-hand experience through sheer projection and interest.
As the pair manoeuvre through the streets of Hiroshima, occasionally escaping back to the bedroom, the nature of time of memory come into play through intense discussions of the past and present. She reveals a past affair with a German soldier during the war that led the shame and exile as he reveals losing his family to the bomb.
What simultaneously unites and divides them is the need to escape from the past. While she is reluctant to discuss her past—embarrassed by an identity-shaping life lesson and riddled with negative emotional stimuli when remembering her home town (Nevers) where it happened—he similarly asserts a need to forget the Hiroshima tragedy, which conflicts with her need to recreate and assess it. Their mutual curiosity about aspects of each other that are painful to acknowledge is ultimately the emotional and thematic glue that holds this oblique work together and elevates its observations beyond the surface relationship to a universal human truth.
And though Hiroshima, mon amour is hypnotic and poetic, having both an emotional and cognitive dimension, it's also quite frustrating as a text. Beyond analysis and appreciation of the juxtaposed imagery, there's an abundance of repetition and protracted close-ups of shoulder blades or hands, bringing into question the nature of experimentation versus deliberately confrontational indulgence.
Hiroshima, mon amour screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Man and a Woman: Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva retrospective series at 4:45pm on Saturday, December 12th, 2013. (Pathe)