Last Year In Marienbad (1961)
Director: Alain Resnais
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoëff
Plot: In a huge, old-fashioned luxury hotel a stranger tries to persuade a married woman to run away with him.
Awards: Won Golden Lion (Venice). Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Screenplay.
Rating: PG for some mature themes.
International Sales: Tamasa Distribution
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
If you were to ask me which is the best film ever made by Alain Resnais, the answer is right here. The legendary ‘French New Wave’ icon has made several influential films including Hiroshima mon amour (his most well-known), but Last Year In Marienbad is in my opinion his masterpiece.
Made in 1961, it received a solitary Oscar nomination for the original screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet. The film works more like experimental cinema than one for the art-house crowd. Over the years, Last Year In Marienbad has neither lost its aura nor charm.
Resnais’ often revisits themes of memory, time, and imagination in his films. But nothing he has done in his career in cinema comes close to what he has achieved in Last Year In Marienbad.
Using a non-chronological structure for its story and dismissing objective reality, Resnais successfully attempts to weave a unique variation of the standard ‘love triangle’ scenario. He replaces conventional, slow flashbacks with instantaneous ‘flash-ins’ that can cut into the narrative suddenly.
These ‘flash-ins’ allow filmmakers to present something essential to character or story development that is appropriate to reveal at that instance. This technique is so influential that it has become a staple in contemporary filmmaking.
Last Year In Marienbad has a strong Gothic feel to it. The costumes and décor are stylishly baroque and the haunting organ music echoes along the endless walkways that characterize the vast mansion where the film is set.
The black-and-white cinematography has a certain dream-like quality that blurs the line between what is reality and fantasy. Midway into the film, there is a short still shot of a large geometrically-shaped landscape garden with several people standing in it, frozen in time.
What is so stunning (or unsettling) about this scene is that while the shrubs and statues have shadows cast on the ground, there are no shadows cast by the people.
Last Year In Marienbad is a hypnotic excursion to the unknowns of the past, present, and the uncertain future. Resnais’ steady and fluid Kubrickian tracking shots in the mansion are unforgettable, forcing viewers to bury themselves in a potent mix of satisfying puzzlement and haunting unease. Till this day, the film’s greatness still remains.
GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)
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