A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Portlanders are in for a rare treat this week when a revival print of Alain Resnais' 1961 masterpiece Last Year at Marienbad arrives at Cinema 21. Long out of print on DVD in the U.S., it's not a film you're often going to stumble across, and the quality of the Region 1 DVDs that remain in circulation leave a lot to be desired. I got a chance to attend a screening of this new 35mm print a couple of weeks ago, and I can attest that it's quite lovely.

Last Year at Marienbad is a rumination on an affair. Twelve months before, X (Giorgio Albertazzi) met A (Delphine Seyrig) and the two had an affair--or so he says and so she denies. The "plot" of the film is X trying to get her to admit to what happened. They had made an agreement to meet after the year was up, so that she could remove herself from her husband, M (Sacha Pitoeff). The film is structured as a string of elliptical, poetic remembrances, the same event revisited in multiple ways, the setting and the circumstance changing. The director, Alain Resnais (Hiroshima, Mon Amour), is attempting to replicate the variables of memory and the flickering flames of passion. A romance may be alive for the man in one way, but alive for the woman in a completely different way, and fear of the future will alter its existence even further.

So it goes, over and over, M's insistence, A's denial, an off-hand admittance, a retreat. All the while, M circles the room, looking like a holdover from Dr. Frankenstein's lab, luring other men, including X, into a card game they can never hope to win. The game is another series of patterns, a sequence of cards displayed the same way each time, removed in a different order, but always with the same result.

Some viewers are going to find Last Year at Marienbad maddening, particularly the first time they see it. The screenplay is by experimental French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose book Jealousy used similar tactics to show a suspicious husband driving himself insane, and I so hated it when it was assigned to me in my first semester of college I've never read another of the man's books. Marienbad will require less of your time, but the film almost demands more patience and concentration, because Resnais, working with director of photography Sacha Vierny and art director Jacques Saulnier, has created such a gorgeous film, it's hard not to stop paying attention to what is happening and just stare. (Special mention must also be given to editor Henri Colpi, because Marienbad is the kind of picture that most likely really came alive in the cutting room.)

Shot at various locations in Bavaria, the opulent estates and posh interiors used for X and A's wanderings are tremendous. More distracting, however, is Delphine Seyrig. Outfitted in gowns from Chanel, she is one of the most dazzling women to ever appear on a movie screen. In some scenes, she wears a dress made entirely of feathers that is to drool over. With her inky black hair and pale skin, Seyrig is practically otherworldly. Though on the surface she must portray a chilly demeanor, her lies are apparent in her face and tentative movements. There seems little debate that A is the woman X is looking for. If she's not, if he really is mistaken, then she surely wishes he wasn't. If his tale is invented, then the variations are merely bait in a fishing expedition. Concoct enough scenarios, and maybe she'll agree to one of them.

Since this new version is being released by Rialto Pictures (with an excellent new poster), there is a pretty good chance we’ll be seeing a new DVD of Last Year at Marienbad soon, possibly even from Criterion, who have released Rialto reissues in the past. Still, it will be worth it not to wait, particularly as this is the kind of movie that gets better with each viewing. If you catch it now, you'll be all the more prepared to settle in and absorb the film when the DVD does land in your player. The revival has a few more stops after Portland, you can check if it is coming to your area here.

Current Soundtrack: The Zombies, "Time of the Season;" Mystery Jets, "Young Love;" The Yardbirds, Ultimate!

Current Mood: indecisive

e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon

All text (c) 2008 Jamie S. Rich


odessasteps said...

We had to see LAST YEAR in a film history class I had as an undergrad.

"One long Obsession commercial" I believe is how I described it then.

I have a feeling I would probably like it better now, but I don't know if I could bring myself to watch it.

Jamie S. Rich said...

I don't know, man, that analogy just seems to show a deficiency in your frame of reference than anything.

That would be kind of like me dismissing POTEMKIN because I already saw the stairs scene in THE UNTOUCHABLES.

odessasteps said...

Well, it was almost 20 years ago (man, do I feel old).

Just one of those memories buried deep in my subconscious.

I haven't seen NASHVILLE since we saw a horrible horrible print of the movie in college, one so bad that the professor apologized for it and thanked those of us that stayed til the end of the picture.