“Yes, but in my film time is shattered.”
September 8, 2006 11:10 AM   Subscribe

"I would like to do better, to be better than I am". He's the French New Wave maverick and Academy Award winner (at 26, for his first short) who, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz -- with considerable personal pain and the admission that "no description, no picture can reveal the true dimension" of what happened in the camps -- made what François Truffaut called "the greatest film ever made", duly censored by French authorities. Four years later he baffled audiences with "the first modern film of sound cinema", shattering the rules of chronology to describe the “anguish of the future”: even if all he ever wanted was "to stop death in its tracks" (French language link), only for one minute. But he is also the unabashed lover of la bande dessinée who learnt English by reading comic books and in the Seventies dreamed (French language link) of making "Spider-Man" into a movie (the Hollywood studios were not convinced), the MGM old-school musical and operetta nut so in love with design that "half of the fashion photography of the past 40 years owes a debt" to him. Now, Alain Resnais' new work, just shown at the Venice Film Festival where his buddy David Lynch was awarded a lifetime achievement Golden Lion, is a French film inspired by an English play with 54 short scenes, music by the X-Files's Mark Snow. (more inside)
posted by matteo (20 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

is the density of your post an allusion to Last Year at Marienbad?
posted by dydecker at 11:21 AM on September 8, 2006

Not to take anything away from Resnais, but I was surprised to see that Robbe-Grillet's screenplay for Last Year at Marienbad contains detailed descriptions of the composition of each frame, and all the camera moves.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:40 AM on September 8, 2006

My God, how long did it take you to create this post? You shame the rest of us (except of course y2karl), with our slapjack collections of good-enough links. I haven't read them all, but the ones I have have given me new respect for Resnais and a burning desire to revisit his movies. I'd like to quote this, from the Lopate piece on Night and Fog, for those who might miss it:
Past and present finally converge in a chilling pan shot of a ceiling, over which the narrative voice tells us: “The only sign—but you have to know—is this ceiling, dug into by fingernails. Even the concrete was torn.” This “but you have to know” (mais il faut savoir, in the original French) has a double meaning: a) you wouldn’t see it unless tipped off to what it meant and; b) you must take this in now, you can no longer escape knowing it.
Mais il faut savoir. Mais il faut savoir. Mais il faut savoir.
posted by languagehat at 11:52 AM on September 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

This review discusses the debt that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind owes to the Alain Resnais film, Je T'Aime Je T'Aime. Here's a sentence where Jonathan Rosenbaum discusses Resnais's influence:

I'd nominate Resnais as the most lyrical narrative auteur alive, as well as the unacknowledged inspiration for most of the significant narrative experiments in movies since the 60s. (I'm not counting gimmicky and unpoetic counterfeits like Memento or Irreversible, but I am including, just for starters, 8-1/2, The Exterminating Angel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Celine and Julie Go Boating, The Shining, Naked Lunch, Groundhog Day, The Lovers of the Arctic Circle, In the Mood for Love, and 25th Hour.)
posted by jonp72 at 11:58 AM on September 8, 2006

I saw Night and Fog in high school, over 30 years ago. It haunts me to this day.
posted by tommasz at 12:10 PM on September 8, 2006

Slight derail, but in what way is The Shining a "narrative experiment"?
posted by stammer at 12:20 PM on September 8, 2006

I just bought Je T'Aime Je T'Aime and was telling people how it's spoken of as the narrative/editing inspiration for Eternal Sunshine. I love Resnais--he seems to be the New Waver to decline the most in popularity. Cahiers said that Hiroshima or Marienbad was either the best movie ever made or the best of that year, but neither are talked about that much. This is an amazing post.
posted by johnasdf at 12:25 PM on September 8, 2006

Stickycarpet, there aren't very many books written on Resnais, but one book I read talked about how although he was seen as a literary director, given his work with Duras, Grillet, and Mercer (for Providence), Duras and Grillet were all surprised by how singularly Resnais-like and dissimilar from their original texts the actual movies turned out to be.

I also wanted to add an accurate comment by Chris Fujiwara writing, I think on Not on My Lips, Resnais's most recent film starring Audrey Tatou--Fujiwara wrote that Resnais has been a director whose audience has been unwilling to let evolve. Films like Melo are incredibly different from, say, Marienbad.

That Rosenbaum list is really interesting too. Definitely Julio Medem and Spike Jonze owe a lot to Resnais. (I'd heard the French reception to Eternal Sunshine wasn't as enthusiastic, since it was seen as a riff off Resnais.) The reference to In the Mood for Love is most obvious at the scene where Maggie Cheung walks up and down the stars to hotel room 2046 several times: the quick cuts are just like the beginning of Muriel.
posted by johnasdf at 12:32 PM on September 8, 2006

By the way, has anybody noticed that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich both feature chase scenes that take place in a man's subconscious? Is that more due to Charlie Kaufman's screenplays or a shared Resnais influence?
posted by jonp72 at 12:41 PM on September 8, 2006

Fujiwara wrote that Resnais has been a director whose audience has been unwilling to let evolve.

This is true of most of the French New Wave. Rivette, Godard, and Chabrol are still making films, but they don't get nearly as much attention and respect as their older works. It probably would have happened to Truffaut and Malle too if they hadn't died off.
posted by jonp72 at 12:43 PM on September 8, 2006

Damn, what a perfect FPP. Color me envious.
posted by blucevalo at 1:22 PM on September 8, 2006

I just want to say that the opening credits shot from Hiroshima Mon Amour is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen on film. It's a moving painting in soft textures, and it gave me shivers.
posted by I, Credulous at 1:53 PM on September 8, 2006

I saw "Last Year at Marienbad" ages ago and was amazed at the slow surreal unfolding of the story. Roger Ebert has written a good review on it, and it's in his Best Movies list.
Capital post, matteo.

languagehat: that excerpt struck me as well. It's nice to read an article by someone who really knows their subject and it's nuances, particularly that phrase and especially about that subject.
posted by Zack_Replica at 2:17 PM on September 8, 2006

how cool he sounds, and how cool the new film sounds--thanks, matteo : >
posted by amberglow at 2:57 PM on September 8, 2006

One amazing thing about Resnais is that, unlike his fellow new-wavers, and unlike, in fact, most artists, he keeps on experimenting, as if he was trying to surprise himself. Chabrol keeps churning drames bourgeois (chabrolien has become an adjective in French), Rivette keeps doing Rivette films that look like other Rivette films, Godard keeps mumbling Godardian aphorisms, but Resnais re-invents Resnais, and manages to create popular films at the same time.
posted by elgilito at 3:02 PM on September 8, 2006

Godard keeps mumbling Godardian aphorisms

Now that's just not fair. Godard has reinvented himself perhaps more than any filmmaker now living. Go watch Opération béton, Breathless, Vivre sa vie, Contempt, 2 ou 3 choses, Weekend, Le Gai savoir, Tout va bien, Comment ça va?, Passion, Nouvelle vague, and Histoire(s) du cinéma and tell me they're all slices cut from the same loaf. He's gone his own way and made what he wanted to make with whatever paltry sums he could scrape together, and his batting average is damn good even if you include those awful pseudo-Maoist movies from the '70s. When he goes, I'll feel that a huge chunk of le cinéma is gone for good.
posted by languagehat at 5:30 PM on September 8, 2006

Wow, what an awesome post - this will keep me occupied for awhile! matteo, many thanks for this and all your superb posts - which have done a lot to extend my cultural education and world view.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:47 PM on September 8, 2006

resnais just won for best director here in venice!
posted by Silky Slim at 12:43 PM on September 9, 2006

Slight derail, but in what way is The Shining a "narrative experiment"?

I can't read Jonathan Rosenbaum's mind, but I'd venture to say it has to do with all the hallucinations that Jack Torrance has of the previous occupants of the Overlook Hotel. And at the end of the film, there is somebody who looks like Jack in an aging photograph of a party at the hotel during its glory days. I highly doubt Kubrick was as influenced by Resnais as Rosenbaum might think he was, but the idea of the past (in the form of horrifying hallucinations) existing in the same space as the present dovetails very neatly with Resnais and his "narrative experiments." Besides, you also have to give Kubrick props for The Killing, which probably did the most to popularize reshuffled film chronologies in an American context.
posted by jonp72 at 11:24 AM on September 10, 2006

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