Along with a handful of other films Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad is one of those that really got me into cinema. It’s haunting and gorgeous, but more than that it showed a labyrinthine structure and rhythm that I hadn’t seen in a film to that point.
With Resnais’ passing not many of the heralded French directors who changed movies in the 1960s are left. Godard and Varda survive him after Rohmer and Chabrol passed relatively recently.
Resnais was well into his 30s when the French New Wave began – he had already made the reflective, devastating Night and Fog in 1955 – and his style was certainly far from the youthful energy of the other, bigger names, but the symmetry and ambition of his films are just as recognizable. There’s a masterly touch there already by 1959’s Hiroshima Mon Amour, which won an award at Cannes and which, though maybe not the cinematic call to arms as the films of his contemporaries, is deeper and more poignant.
Some of Resnais’ post-Marienbad films, like The War is Over and Je t’aime je t’aime, also show the director’s fondness for the hypnotic and the non-linear and the latter of those two is an underseen, underrated time travel flick.
His 2009 film Wild Grass surprised me with its gentle playfulness; Resnais was 87 when it came out.
Here’s the Marienbad trailer. It’s confounding and pretty and often imitated (did The Simpsons ever parody this? I feel like I recall it but can’t place it).
Resnais and his films will be missed.