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  Hiroshima Mon Amour Post-War Passion
Year: 1959
Director: Alain Resnais
Stars: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud, Bernard Fresson
Genre: Drama, War, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Hiroshima is successfully emerging from the horrors of World War II, when it suffered a nuclear weapon dropped on it, killing thousands and injuring more. The aftereffects are not simply psychological either: it was a huge blow to Japanese morale, but in the city, what was left of it, the survivors had to live with terrible sickness and deformities thanks to the burns and radiation they endured. But is it possible to move on from this enormous setback, and in doing so, does that mean you forget about the tragedy that formed you today? And what of love, can that continue after knowing such horrors, the terrible nature of humanity?

Hiroshima Mon Amour saw director Alain Resnais making his feature debut with a work that drew acclaim across the globe at the time, though his most celebrated effort would be Last Year at Marienbad which happened along shortly after. Nevertheless, in a long career the influence of writer Marguerite Duras could be detected in the manner he went about telling his stories, shifting time around to demonstrate the way memories - some memories - will pop into your head and shape the way you act in your present and future. Despite the romantic quality of some of this, there remained a "once bitten, twice shy" aspect to them.

Fellow French cult director Chris Marker, a great friend of Resnais, was involved at some point as well, and his preoccupation with time and memory was shared by Resnais and indeed Duras, whose own films directed by herself were, if anything, even more difficult to watch and fathom than her closest contemporaries. Therefore this particular film, as well as being a key work in the French New Wave, had effects that extended far into its own future, which was only fitting considering the river of time plotting, such as it was, that made Hiroshima Mon Amour so distinctive, though despite the title, the Occupation in France was perhaps more important.

It's certainly important to the actress played by Emmanuelle Riva, who has no name here, as neither does her lover, the Japanese local Eiji Okada. In the early stages, they enjoy a rapturous affair, forever hugging and kissing one another and purely enjoying their own company, but then the issue of what happens when they want to know more about their partner arises. Okada has the trauma of Hiroshima itself in his past, a shared trauma of millions of his countrymen and women, whereas Riva has a more personal trauma from her younger days in France, and the film asks us to weigh up whether the harrowing experiences of the individual can genuinely compare to a terrible set of events shared by a community, an entire nation, a whole planet.

If there was a sense that Okada was taking on too much - or had too much imposed on him - by representing his country in one man, Riva succeeded rather better which suggested the cinema was better applied to one or two characters at once when it came to bringing home horribly formative experiences. What had happened to her was not unique, as a late teenager she fell in love with a German soldier and was not only shunned by her village, she was physically abused as well with her hair sheared off to mark her shame, but had she gotten over this and forged a career in acting that was going well enough for her to headline a movie? From what we see, we forget these memories at our peril, for they will always be crouching beneath the surface of our subconscious, as if forgetting is another form of repression. Eventually the woman grows terrified she will forget the good times instead. Plenty of food for thought, not much of it pleasant, either, though the feeling of place as Riva wanders the city streets was worth watching for in itself. Distinctive music by Georges Delerue and Giovanni Fusco.

[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with these special features:

New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Audio commentary by film historian Peter Cowie
Interviews with director Alain Resnais from 1961 and 1980
Interviews with actor Emmanuelle Riva from 1959 and 2003
New interview with film scholar François Thomas, author of L'atelier d’Alain Resnais
New interview with music scholar Tim Page about the film’s score
Revoir "Hiroshima" . . . , a 2013 program about the film's restoration
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Kent Jones and excerpts from a 1959 Cahiers du cinéma roundtable discussion about the film.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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