If the basic love story of ‘Hiroshima mon amour’ comes across as less than unique—a brief encounter between doomed lovers—Resnais’ presentation amplifies the romance to make it something special.
Alain Resnais is inarguably one of the most prolific directors to come out of the French New Wave, with nearly 50 films under his belt, not least of which including his masterworks Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad, and Night and Fog. Undeterred by age, he seemed to have been working up until the day he died, with his swan song Life of Riley being presented posthumously at this year’s New York Film Festival. Those only familiar with his Nouvelle Vague work will be in for a pleasant surprise: Life of Riley is perhaps more fun that it deserves to be.
By just examining the title, L’immortelle appears to be the quintessential Alain Robbe-Grillet film. It’s French, it’s feminine (that is, it’s being used to describe a woman), and it translates to “The Immortal”, a reference to how often the woman appears posthumously thanks to its unique narrative structure. Robbe-Grillet is primarily known as a writer, and primarily known in the film world as having penned Resnais’s equally immortal Last Year at Marienbad just two years before this feature.
To wax in a state of eulogy about Alain Resnais is to have reviewed his last few features at the times they premiered. With Wild Grass (2009), You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (2012) and the incredibly recent Life of Riley (2014), reviewers understandably noted his age, Resnais being in his late eighties and early nineties, while still producing films containing a youthful charm, his resolution on the festival circuit as firm as ever. Perhaps then, it still came as a surprise that at the age of 91, Alain Resnais had passed, leaving a remarkable six decades of major work behind, rivaled at this point only by 105-year-old arthouse compatriot Manoel de Oliveira. Surprising, yes, thanks to his experimental shock to the film world in Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) being equalled by his recent output, a promising second wind. His death has sparked many remembrances of first meeting Resnais’s challenging work, mostly experiencing boredom, frustration, or sometimes a dull fascination, yet all ending with acceptance, appreciation, and veneration.
Where Alain Resnais’ first film, Hiroshima mon amour, was the unconventional story of two people haunted by the imagery of a distant war, his follow-up, Last Year at Marienbad, expanded upon the themes of troubled memory and the imagined past in a convoluted series of conversation and flashbacks between a woman and two men, all unnamed. Famous for its confounding narrative structure, the film excels at making truth and fiction indistinguishable. Its surreal, dream-like nature is at once fascinating and baffling, prompting some to call the film a masterpiece and others incomprehensible. Encompassing all the passion and pain of a love triangle and the intrigue of a mystery, Last Year at Marienbad maintains its outwardly staid atmosphere throughout to haunting effect.