France / Japan, 1959 (MIFF 1960, Programme 21)
Director: Alain Resnais
A young French actress has been making a film in Hiroshima. On the eve of her return to France she meets a Japanese architect. Hiroshima Mon Amour opens on their passionate embrace, she having discovered a love which revives memories of her first love in France, for a soldier of the German occupation forces at Nevers. The woman begins an almost uninterrupted monologue on her past, which the present has so abruptly re-created for her. . .
Alain Resnais' film is quite possibly the most controversial first feature since Citizen Kane. It has aroused, overseas, the same sort of excitement and partisanship; as with the Orson Welles film, only time will tell just how the critic should evaluate it. Here is the explanation of the film's method: the opening sequence, cutting directly from the lovers' embrace to evocations of Hiroshima's meaning for the conscience of the world, the jumbled flashbacks, the final sequence in which the actress and her Japanese lover wander the streets of Hiroshima, which themselves merge into the streets of Nevers.
Its innovation is only partly its method, in the way in which flashbacks are used not for reminiscence but to translate the perpetual counterpoint of past and present into rigorously mathematical or musical terms. Five times, early in the film, we move directly from the lovers' embrace into the tragic past of Hiroshima, the "forgotten city", and, in one of these episodes - the museum sequence, with its dazzling tracking shots - we are brought close to the concept of completely lyrical cinema. . . Nevers, Hiroshima, the past, the present, merge into one another, themes inseparable. Equally remarkable is the film's total style, which derives from the exact balancing of text and image, the use of the dialogue (which might be described as stylised self-revelation), and the playing of an actress (Emmanuele Riva) who has the rare ability to convey emotional honesty and dazzling theatricality. Essentially, the film is a study of memory and forgetfulness, of a sensibility in action. The themes of war and atrocity, love and death, are inescapable; but the validity of Resnais' thesis depends not on how far he can persuade us that Hiroshima and Nevers are related, but on the conviction that, for this woman, they are inseparable.