Hiroshima mon amour (1959)

Director:  Alain Resnais
Cast:  Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas 
Plot:  A French young woman has spent the night with a Japanese man at Hiroshima where she went for the shooting of a film about peace.

Genre:  Drama / Romance / War
Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Screenplay.  
Runtime:  90min
Rating:  PG for some mature themes.
International Sales:  Tamasa Distribution

This beloved French classic was one of the first few films to herald a new era (now known as the French New Wave) of filmmaking that redefined cinema by not sticking to its rigid conventions.  Hiroshima mon amour is often said to be one of Alain Resnais’ masterpieces. 

Although it is his feature debut, he shows surprising assuredness and an enthusiastic eye for fine imagery.  Set in post-war Hiroshima, a couple of decades after the atomic bombing, Resnais’ black-and-white film starts out with bleak images of hordes of people striking for world peace, together with horrific shots of the dead and ‘the living dead’.  The sombre backdrop is a startling contrast to the story that unfolds which is less tragic.

The film centers on a couple - a French actress (Elle, played by Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese architect (Lui, played by Eiji Okada) - who are having an affair with each other. Throughout Hiroshima mon amour, viewers will observe them up-close together either in a lovely embrace in bed, or conversing over a glass of wine.  It seems like they are a blissful couple, but it is only a matter of time before Elle’s past comes back to haunt her. 

Using a well-edited technique of flashbacks that incorporate into the main narrative, Resnais cautiously turns back time to World War II in Nazi-occupied France.  Slowly, viewers will get to understand Elle as she comes to terms of her loss during the war and her new desire for romance again.

Is there a price to pay for love?  Can love cross boundaries?  Resnais explores these questions through interesting layers of dialogue between the couple.  Its poetic, almost lyrical screenplay by Marguerite Duras received an Oscar nomination for its beauty and construction. 

There is a praiseworthy sequence three-quarters into the film that shows the couple conversing in a crowded bar.  After a while, when Lui realizes that Elle is tittle-tattling irrationally, he suddenly slaps her hard in the face, waking her up from her trance.  At this moment, the preceding stealthy silence turns into bar noise in a split-second.  The contrast is like a shot in the ear, startling and surreal.

Hiroshima mon amour ends in mid-flight, leaving questions unanswered and a story that meanders nowhere.  While that might be effective for other kinds of films, it leaves viewers here with a bit more frustration than they would like.  Thankfully, there is still much to appreciate about this film.  Its ability to withstand the test of time is another indication of its status as what many think is one of the best Resnais' films ever made. 

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)

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