Day 280: Hiroshima mon amour 1959

Day 280

5 April 2018   11.58pm

Hiroshima mon amour   1959

An Alain Resnais Film

I watched Hiroshima mon amour today. Some films obviously deserve their greatness from the first viewing and this is one of them. Like Sans Soleil, or Persona or Pickpocket or L’avventura or Tokyo Story or Pather panchali or Ugetsu monogatari – they’re groundbreaking first-time around. So, too, 2001: A Space Odyssey (but harder to grasp why for some – just look at the reviews when 2001  was released!) So, too, La nuit et brouillard (1956) which I watched in January, which was as horrifying as it was extraordinary. As is, Hiroshima mon amour.

In some ways, more-so, but, also less so and this is why:

Resnais broke the ground with the brutal presentation of Night and Fog but he forged that style into filmmaking with traditional narrative techniques and then added another spin on it all, creating something unique with Hiroshima mon amour.

Right now, April 5, 2018, I don’t know anything about Resnais’s life. I’ve never seen any film he’s directed but from that moment in January (2018) watching Night and Fog and that moment watching Hiroshima mon amour, realising – on-the-run – Resnais was making another documentary about unspeakable horror, which continually changed as I watched, slowly morphing into an under-developed fictional love story, with some big comments about how human beings view past events and about saying goodbye, loving something and losing touch with memories. In fact, not just memories, but memories as our best attempt to allow us to remember reality. Reality through the writings and images of other people remembering a reality they may not even have experienced. It becomes second-hand and third-hand and then it becomes words on a page that a writer or filmmaker or presenter wants to dismiss or allow as part of his larger work.

Hiroshima mon amour is about how human beings view past events, say goodbye, love something and lose touch with memories.

– Philip Powers, April 2018

Unique is one of those big (little) words – often used to describe the first time something was done completely differently (like Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, The Goons and Monty Python).  I’m guessing for as many unique successes there are a million unique failures. The greatness is not in the uniquity but in the execution, by using a fundamental artistic tradition and doing it very differently (Tokyo Story and Pather panchali) from (almost) everything before (Citizen Kane) and throwing away the rulebook (Breathless) and using that step to take you to brilliant uniqueness (or uniquity) – Pierrot le fou.

I had to watch Au hazard Balthazar three times, and The Silence three times and only then did I start to get a better understanding of where the individual filmmaker was headed.

I know that Hiroshima mon amour is like nothing I’ve seen before. I know that this first viewing has only scratched the surface. I’m still confused about the relationship between the Frenchwoman, Nevers, and the Japanese man, and between Resnais and Hiroshima and what he is suggesting. I may have got it all on the first viewing but I doubt it. I don’t think Resnais is just throwing it onto a plate and saying, This is dinner, like it or leave it! There’s more intent and purpose but I haven’t grasped it yet. I loved it but haven’t really understood it.

The thing about people born in the mid-forties or the early sixties, or any of the seventies, eighties, nineties, or more, is that they don’t – unless they’ve studied history, academically or through an interest that is motivated only by their own desire to learn – know much about the Great War, WWII or Japan’s involvement in WWII or any of the other historical moments where the worst mass-murders were carried out.

Even now, if you soak up current events through commercial networks, you don’t hear about the current atrocities. What happens in Africa and has been happening in Africa for decades – which is horrendous – is hardly front page news or worth a headline on page 8 or worth a mention on television.

– Philip Powers, April 2018

With Resnais, my first instinct is that he is a person wanting to show something real, not for shock value, but because it was real. In 1956 and 1959, Resnais wants to address what has (possibly) been largely ignored in France – maybe the world – in the mid-1950s: the two extremes of World War II’s worst atrocities – the Nazi’s behaviour toward the Jews and America’s decision to drop an atomic bomb on the Japanese people living in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.