Hiroshima mon amour (1959)

My favourite feature debut from the French New Wave—an extraordinary meditation on trauma, memory and love as Resnais merges the historical, geographical and the personal in an intelligent and sensuous way.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review #2,126

Dir. Alain Resnais
1959 | France/Japan | Drama/Romance | 90 mins | 1.37:1 | French, Japanese & English
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada
Plot: A French actress and a Japanese architect engage in a brief, intense affair in postwar Hiroshima, their consuming mutual fascination impelling them to exorcise their own scarred memories of love and suffering.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes); Nom. for Best Original Screenplay (Oscars)
Source: Argos Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Time, Memory, Suffering
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

I first saw this film more than a decade ago.  It was memorable, but nothing of the sort that would strike me as an eternal work, though film historians would of course disagree with me. 

But revisiting it in my early thirties, and having surveyed a fair amount of French New Wave films over the years, I must say that Hiroshima mon amour is now hands-down my favourite feature debut by any Nouvelle Vague filmmaker. 

Starring the ravishing Emmanuelle Riva in her first acting debut in a feature film as a French actress who visits Hiroshima to shoot an anti-war film only to find herself having an affair with a married Japanese man (Eiji Okada), Hiroshima mon amour is a complex work and an extraordinary meditation on trauma, memory and love. 

“I’m beginning to forget you.”

Alain Resnais, who would follow up with the astonishing Venice Golden Lion-winning Last Year at Marienbad two years later, merges the historical, geographical and the personal in an intelligent and sensuous way. 

As such Hiroshima mon amour feels like both a poetic elegy for the collective suffering of war and an interrogation on love and desire as painfully experienced through the personal memories of places marked by traumatic contexts. 

The first fifteen or so minutes of Resnais’ work is pure cinema—montages of suffering and disturbing images of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing that are intercut with snapshots of an intimate encounter between man and woman.  That we only see Riva’s face after this long sequence of associative shots is a testament to Resnais’ confidence with experimentation. 

Beautifully shot with striking images of nightlife in Japan that are juxtaposed with picturesque shots of a quiet French town, Hiroshima mon amour is a masterwork of eclecticism, written by the great Marguerite Duras, that merits continual viewings from time to time.

Grade: A+




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