Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad opens with beautiful shots of the labyrinthine castle and the baroque design of which is as consciously geometric as it is overloaded with theatrical designs and elaborate architecture. You see gorgeous framed paintings on the walls and of the luscious garden outside with its exceedingly regular lay-out that is typical of the French garden architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries. While the camera flows slowly through the hallways, galleries, and salons of the hotel's seemingly endless structure, we hear the disturbing music by Francis Seyrig, mostly performed on an organ; which sound similar to a gothic horror film. Last Year at Marienbad is an abstract surreal masterpiece; a baffling puzzle that in many ways is unsolvable and yet still seduces it's viewer by its hypnotic and beautiful mysteries. When first released Last Year at Marienbad was either hailed by critics or royally slammed. It won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice film festival and at the same time was considered an entry in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, by Harry Medved; and an "aimless disaster" by critic Pauline Kael. The split opinions over this experimental film is certainly understandable; since it goes against everything an audience enjoys when going to see a motion picture like, a linear storyline, character development, continuity, conflict and a resolution. It's a very difficult film, but like all great art; everyone comes away with their own interpretations, thoughts and feelings. What critics that even hated the film can't deny is that it is one of the most beautiful looking films of all time that show shots of ornate ceilings, vast drawing rooms, enormous mirrors and reflections, paintings, endless corridors and grounds in which shrubbery has been tortured into geometric shapes and patterns.

The basic story is a surprisingly simple love triangle. A man who is one of the guests; (referred to as X) tries to convince a woman (whose name is A) that they previously fallen in love the summer before in Frederiksbad. In his telling, the putative couple had planned to run away together, but she had asked him to wait one year. A at first refutes X’s claim but is gradually swayed by his insistence. During the film X plays several games of Nim with M, A's jealous husband or lover (it's never really explained) where M always comes out winning, and ultimately A finally agrees to leave with X. Even though continuity is destroyed by its methods of filming and editing, the film offers instead a 'mental continuity', of thought and memory. In determining the visual appearance of the film, Resnais said that he wanted to recreate a certain style of silent cinema. It is this constant dance of seduction and evasion that makes Last Year at Marienbad so challenging, and engaging, as you let yourself be carried along by the rhythms of its music, voice-over, and the dream-like tracking shots which smoothly glide down the grand hotel corridors. Like the cinematic puzzles of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, David Lynch's Inland Empire, Chris Marker's La Jetee, Ingmar Bergman's Persona and Christopher Nolan's Memento; Last Day at Marienbad is a powerful and entrancing enigma of a film; and the real fun of art is asking the questions because I believe giving the answers is a form of defeat.

 

FILM/NOTES

The film opens with the soundtrack mixed in with the voice of the protagonist that is solemn and monotonous; which makes for a haunting and powerful experience...

"silent rooms where one's footsteps are absorbed by carpets so thick, so heavy, that no sound reaches one's ear, as if the very ear of him who walks on once again along these corridors through these salson and galleries in this edifice of a bygone era, this sprawling, sumptuous, baroque, gloomy hotel, where one endless corridor follows another, silent, empty corridors heavy with cold, dark woodwork, stucco, molded paneling, marble, black mirrors, dark-toned portraits, columns, sculpted door frames, rows of doorways, galleries, side corridors that in turn lead to empty salons, salons heavy with ornamentation of a bygone era..."

In a baroque castle in Europe, run as a modern luxury hotel for an upper-class clientel, several guests are watching a play on stage and suddenly you hear a chime. The play ends and afterwards the audience start socializing with each other. "We've met before," a couple gossip as they all suddenly freeze and return talking once again. "In must have been in 28, 28 or 29."

When we start to see more of the other hotel guests, who are all dressed in formal attire, and who are engaging in polite and low-key conversations; the deliberate artificiality of the people at the party and the servants who work there seem to be posturing rather than acting like real people. Their demeanor resembles the artificial baroque statues throughout the hotel, and the lack of naturalness and realism gives the atmosphere a dream surreal like quality.

Much of the guests' time is spent with typical leisure activities and games; like shooting galleries, ballroom dancing, playing poker and dominoes.

The basic story is a surprisingly simple love triangle. A man who is one of the guests; (referred by the screenplay as X) tries to convince a woman (whose name is A) that they previously fallen in love the summer before in Frederiksbad. When he tells her this story he says "It was on that day [last year] that you gave me the little bracelet. And you asked me to allow you a year, thinking perhaps that you might test me that way... or wear me out... or forget me. But time...time doesn't count. I've come, now, to take you away." At first she doesn't believe in X's story saying, "impossible, I tell you. I've never been too Frederiksbad." X says "Then somewhere else perhaps. Karlstadt, Marienbad, or Baden-Salsa. Or even here in this salon. You followed me here so I could show you...that picture," as the camera pans to a portrait of the layout of the garden of the castle.

X keeps persisting A with her repeatedly saying to him, "No, no. Leave me alone ... Please ..." During the film X plays several games with M, A's jealous husband or lover (it's never really explained). M has a vampire like look to him and even though we are not sure what his exact relationship with A is; we know he has an authority over her. The game X and M play together is a game called Nim and X asks M at one point, "can you ever lose?" M tell him "I can lose...but I always win," in which he always does. The game involves setting out several rows of match sticks (or cards).

Two players take turns removing match sticks, as many as they want, but only from one row at a time. The player who is left with the last matchstick loses. X keeps confronting A; describing how they had met first outside on the balcony, and during the evening are spending time together going ballroom dancing and walking out into the garden. X even says to her, "you never seemed to be waiting for me, but we kept meeting at every turn in the path...behind every shrub...at the foot of every statue...at the edge of every fountain. It was as if that entire garden there were only you and me." Then he describes to her how he met up her last year in her bedroom; where he frightened her.

When flashing back to him confronting her in her bedroom X says, "I had warned you I would come. You didn't answer. When I came I found all the doors ajar...You've always been afraid. But I loved your fear that evening. I watched you, letting you struggle a little... I loved you. There was something in your eyes, you were alive... finally... I took you, half by force."

A few moments later X recants the rape aspect of his visit to A's bedroom: "Oh no... Probably it wasn't by force... But you're the only one who knows that." Persisting she must remember showing her a bracelet of hers, he asks her "what more prove do you need? I'd kept a photo of you, taken one afternoon in the gardens a few days before you left." But when giving it to her she still says that proves nothing. She tells him, "Anyone could have taken the snapshot, anytime, anywhere."

Another flashback shows A in her bedroom; with her laying down X narrates his thoughts: "No...no...I don't remember anymore. I don't remember myself..." M comes into the room, asking her what she did that afternoon; then says he is leaving heading for the shooting gallery. When X comes into the room; he doesn't realize M didn't leave as M steps out of the shadows with a gun out and shoots A. X narrates saying, "No, that isn't the right ending. I must have you alive."

X is holding A in his arms and asks her, "Why do you still refuse to remember anything?" A says, "You're raving. I'm tired. Leave me alone..." In another flashback X plays another game of Nim with M and loses once again. He heads back up to A's room and when entering confronts her as she backs away. You hear X thinking to himself, "no, no, no! It's not true. It wasn't by force. Try to remember. For days and days. Every night. All bedrooms are alike. But that bedroom for me was like no other. There were no more doors, no more corridors, no more hotel, no more garden. There wasn't even a garden anymore."

The camera zooms through the corridors as it ends up going straight toward A as she gladly welcomes him, over and over again; into a ray of light; in which I think symbolizes him raping her. A in the present is starting to be won over by X's stories.

Later waiting in the garden X and A reunite on the balcony as A is still having doubts on leaving with him that evening. "We can't turn back now." X demands to A. "All I ask is to wait a little longer, next year, hear, same day, same time, and I'll follow you anywhere," A begs him, (as the film flashes from the past and present.) X is getting frustrated saying, "I've waited to long as it is. A few months, a few hours, a few minutes, a few seconds more..." Suddenly A hears something and says, "Someone's coming...Be quite, for pity's sake. Go away if you love me." X backs away from the balcony and you where cement crumbling.

Suddenly in the present time A has a dizzy spell in the salon as she is asked by M to go up and rest. That night after M checks up on her he leaves her to rest as he attends a play down in the theatre. A finally chooses to leave that evening with X when the clock chimes midnight; which is also the deadline she has set for M, to give him a chance to prevent her from leaving. The midnight bell chimes and M doesn't come to win her back; and X is there to take her away; but not knowing where, as promised.

As they both leave the hotel together M watches from the castle; finally letting her go with whom she truly loves. You then hear X narrate for the last time, "the hotel grounds were laid out like a kind of French garden, devoid of trees, flowers, or any kind of vegetation. Gravel, stone, marble and straight lines marked out rigid spaces areas devoid of mystery. At first glance, it seemed impossible to lose your way. At first glance...down straight paths, between statues with frozen gestures and granite slabs, where even now...you were losing your way...forever...in the stillness of the night...alone with me.

 

ANALYZE

So much critical ink has been shed over Last Year at Marienbad that one might wonder if the flood of commentary, once receded, would take the film along with it. Alain Resnais’ second feature has been lavishly praised and royally slammed; awarded the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Film Festival and nominated for an Oscar, but also branded an “aimless disaster” by Pauline Kael; lauded by some as a great leap forward in the battle against linear storytelling and a worthy successor to Hoffmann, Proust, and Borges, dismissed by others as hopelessly old-fashioned.

The ambivalence is understandable. Marienbad blatantly toys with our expectations regarding plotline, character development, continuity, conflict, resolution—all those elements we’ve come to expect from a satisfying motion picture. Like its nameless hero, the film relentlessly pursues us with a barrage of assertions while giving us little to hold on to as convincingly true, until in the end, we, like Delphine Seyrig’s equally nameless heroine, have only two choices: remain steadfast in our resistance to the seduction or just plain submit.

The plot is disarmingly simple: At a retreat for the Other Half located somewhere in Europe, a man (referred to in the screenplay as X, and played by Italian heartthrob Giorgio Albertazzi) tries to convince a woman (A, Seyrig’s character) that they had fallen in love the previous summer, “in Karlstadt, Marienbad, or Baden-Salsa. Or even here in this salon.” In his telling, the putative couple had planned to run away together, but she had asked him to wait one year. The woman at first refutes X’s claim but is gradually swayed by his insistence. After several episodes of muted sparring between X and A’s cooler-than-thou husband-guardian, M (Sacha Pitoëff), mainly over hands of the game Nim that M always wins, A finally agrees to leave with X.

So far, it’s still the same old story, a fight for love and bragging rights. The devil, as always, lurks in the details. Indeed, the more evidence X provides as proof of veracity, the more discrepancies emerge, and the more the enigma thickens. As the film progresses, the image on-screen appears almost willfully to clash with X’s voice-over description, sometimes prompting him to shout at it like an exasperated director with an especially temperamental star. Incidents and settings frequently repeat, but their details change disconcertingly between one iteration and the next: A’s remembered bedroom veers from bare to baroque; the hotel gardens sometimes boast a maze of shrubbery, sometimes grand alleys as stiff and straight as the gentlemen’s tuxedos. (Resnais obtained this effect by shooting at three different palaces—none actually located in Marienbad.) Added to the narrator’s stalkerlike pursuit of the reticent heroine, these inconsistencies imbue the film with an atmosphere of uncertainty, instability, and threat.

We might say that the ambivalence that greeted the film, and that so shapes its content, also extends to its two main creators, ideal interlocutors ultimately speaking at cross-purposes. At the time of their meeting in 1960, they would have appeared the perfect match: Alain Resnais had just shaken up the film world, and cinematic convention, with his feature debut, Hiroshima mon amour (1959), while Alain Robbe-Grillet’s four novels to date (The Erasers, The Voyeur, Jealousy, In the Labyrinth) had outraged scores of critics and established him as spokesperson for the nouveau roman, a brand of fiction in which plot is implied through objective description rather than divulged through in-depth character analysis. Introduced by Resnais’ producers, the director and the scenarist quickly found much common ground between them, including a shared fascination with form over story line. “The question of defining an anecdote was something for later: the important thing was in the telling,” Robbe-Grillet commented in an interview about their collaboration. “As long as the kinds of form were agreed on, we’d be able to think up the subject.” They also shared a taste for imbricating invention and reality: Robbe-Grillet had been trained as an engineer, and his novels often dwell on minute details of buildings and landscape; Resnais had spent the decade before Hiroshima making documentaries with the emotional range of fiction, including lyrical meditations on van Gogh and Guernica, and the much acclaimed Night and Fog (1955), a nightmare tour of the Nazi concentration camps scripted by the novelist and holocaust survivor Jean Cayrol. Mirroring Robbe-Grillet’s passion for architecture, another of Resnais’ documentaries, Toute la mémoire du monde (1956), snakes through the labyrinth of the Bibliothèque nationale, both celebrating the library’s recesses and providing a nonfiction pendant to Marienbad’s numerous tracking shots of palace corridors. After an inspiring first conversation, Robbe-Grillet drafted four proposals for Resnais; the director selected the most “sentimental and austere” as the best vehicle for their formal concerns.

On the one hand, Marienbad draws quite naturally on its cocreators’ prior accomplishments. Like Hiroshima, it weaves a hypnotic network of repeated phrases and recurrent visual, musical, and narrative motifs. And like Hiroshima, it stages a prolonged tug-of-war between two unnamed protagonists, he wooing her from a rival love interest with a psychoanalyst’s perseverance, she caught between resistance and surrender—both films culminating in a virtual “transfer of affect.” Like Robbe-Grillet’s novels, meanwhile, Marienbad offers only the elements of a story, leaving the viewer the responsibility of piecing them together. And like the novels—Jealousy (1957) being a prime example—it introduces into the mix distinct undertows of murder and violence, as well as telling variants that constantly upend whatever certainties we think we’ve gained. Jealousy, moreover, rehearses the triangular dynamic of Marienbad, including the watchful husband and the use of the initial A to designate the heroine.

At the same time, the film betrays some significant divergences between the two men’s visions, perhaps accounting in part for the ineffable tension between the protagonists on-screen, as well as between what we see and what we hear. Robbe-Grillet later stressed how the writing of Marienbad benefited from some stimulating disagreements; yet at first it was mainly he who carried the day, while Resnais’ suggestions—such as introducing the outside world via references to current events, or making Seyrig’s character pregnant—were generally discarded. Robbe-Grillet then delivered a screenplay so detailed, down to indications of soundtrack and camera movement, that the director confessed to feeling like a mere “robot” in the first weeks of shooting. In the end, however (as intimated in his introduction to the published screenplay, and more explicitly aired in later comments), Robbe-Grillet was taken aback by certain of Resnais’ interpretations, as if once established on the set, the director regained control of the project despite the author’s best efforts to constrain him.

Among the more notable changes is the score, which the scenarist prescribed as music “to set one’s teeth on edge . . . with percussive elements [such as] footsteps, isolated notes, shouts,” but which in the film is dominated by a gravid, liturgical pipe organ heavily indebted to Wagner and the symphonies of Louis Vierne. (The composer was Delphine Seyrig’s brother Francis, Resnais’ last-minute choice after Messiaen turned him down, and in the event a wise move.) Nor did Robbe-Grillet appreciate the cast, finding Seyrig in particular unsuited for the character he fantasized. Perhaps most drastically, Resnais attenuates the screenplay’s clear indication that X is rescuing A from a comfortable but stifling existence. By numerous subtle and not-so-subtle details, the visuals seem to favor the heroine’s point of view, almost defending her against Robbe-Grillet’s identification with X, giving her an autonomy and independence of mind out of register with the author’s objectifying gaze. Robbe-Grillet called Marienbad “the story of a persuasion,” in which the hero offers the woman “a past, a future, and freedom.” In Resnais’ realization of it, things are not nearly so simple.

No doubt Robbe-Grillet also objected to the level of stylization. While both men had envisioned a film characterized by “ritual deliberation, a certain slowness, a sense of the theatrical,” one senses that Resnais took this further than Robbe-Grillet had expected. Did the novelist share, for instance, the director’s love of Louis Feuillade’s serial melodramas, his desire to capture in Marienbad “a certain style of the silent cinema [and] re-create that atmosphere”? One thing that can’t have pleased Robbe-Grillet much, given his avowed penchant for S&M, is Resnais’ use of silent-film conventions to deflate what had been scripted as a brutal rape fantasy into something both comically and appealingly mannered. Resnais had even tried to obtain old-fashioned film stock to get the “halo” effect typical of silents, and his use of overexposure and exaggerated gestures is no doubt a way of compensating for its unavailability. (For the sharp-eyed observer, Resnais throws in another bit of cinema tradition: a ghostly profile of Alfred Hitchcock, incongruously appearing at screen right at about eleven minutes and thirty seconds—a nod to the master of suspense and his famous cameos, as well as a hint that Marienbad is, at bottom, a mystery.) The protagonists, too, seem in higher relief on-screen than in the author’s visualization. While Albertazzi is comparatively bland, handsome in a disposable sort of way, the viewer’s memory is indelibly marked by Seyrig with her strict black bob, so distinct from the bleached perm she sports in most films, and by Pitoëff—described in the screenplay simply as “tall, gray-haired, very elegant”—with his Nosferatu stare and face so gaunt it might have been caught in a trouser press. Sacha Vierny’s photography contributes equally to the sense of artificiality, glazing the visuals with a patina of hieratic stillness, much like the fashion photos of Helmut Newton or Philippe Halsman in vogue at the time—and perfectly in sync with A’s over-the-top Chanel and Evein robes.

Indeed, though Marienbad is generally considered a love story, it is perhaps the most rigidly codified seduction ever filmed, with nary a hair out of place. X pursues A with B-movie persistence, but his ardor seems more focused on winning her over than on satisfying his passion: one can barely imagine them kissing, let alone making love. For a seducer, at times he seems patently cruel, his face betraying a kind of predatory hardness. Seyrig, whether disputing X’s account of their past rendezvous or acquiescing to it, rarely seems to lose her composure, hardly rippling the stuffy atmosphere even when crying out or dropping a glass. Oddly, it is the preternaturally self-possessed Pitoëff who provides the film’s one moment of actual tenderness, when he recognizes—perhaps even before she does—that A is about to leave him, bearing out the adage about those who are lucky at cards.

Like most art, Marienbad is ultimately about its own experience, the true dialogue occurring not between characters but between maker and audience. Robbe-Grillet’s well-known comment that the “entire story of Marienbad happens neither in two years nor in three days, but exactly in one hour and a half”—the duration of the film—could in this regard be said of any cinematic work. But whereas most movies give at least the illusion of progress and resolution, here the story line is unapologetically elliptical, the spa and its guests hermetically sealed in “a perpetual present.” The midnight chime we hear at the beginning of the film is quite literally the same as the one that ends the stage- and screenplay, in an eternal loop that brings the story back to its starting point and leaves us, like the seduced (and abandoned?) A, “losing our way forever in the stillness of night.”

It is this constant dance of seduction and evasion that makes Last Year at Marienbad so challenging, engaging, and contemporary some fifty years after the fact. On the one hand, the film constantly thwarts our efforts at rational interpretation, even as it dares us to keep trying. But at the same time, both Resnais and Robbe-Grillet have repeatedly stressed the very simple key to understanding and enjoying the work: just watch it. Let yourself be carried along by the music, the rhythms of Albertazzi’s slightly stagy voice-over, the sinuosity of the tracking shots down the grand hotel corridors. Marienbad appears “difficult” if we try to impose a traditionally logical and chrono-logical structure on the flow of sounds and images (though perhaps less difficult now that so many films have taken their cue from it—Chris Marker’s La Jetée [1962], Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining [1980], Christopher Nolan’s Memento [2000], and Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky [2001] immediately come to mind). But boiled down to its essence, nothing could be more self-evident, or more personal. “I don’t think of [Marienbad] as an enigma,” Resnais once told an interviewer. “Each spectator can find his own solution. But it won’t be the same solution for everyone.” Against a stiffly regulated backdrop located in a purely fabricated space, Resnais ushers us through the unpredictable and manifold corridors of human memory and desire.

-Mark Polizzotti

Last Day at Marienbad was created out of a very unusual collaboration between its writer Alain Robbe-Grillet and its director the great; Alain Resnais. Robbe-Grillet described the film saying "Alain Resnais and I were able to collaborate only because we had seen the film in the same way from the start, and not just in the same general outlines but exactly, in the construction of the least detail as in its total architecture. What I wrote might have been what was already in his mind; what he added during the shooting was what I might have written. Paradoxically enough, and thanks to the perfect identity of our conceptions, we almost always worked separately." Robbe-Grillet wrote a screenplay which was very detailed and specific in how he wanted the placement and movement of the camera and the sequencing of shots in the editing.

Resnais filmed the script making only limited alterations which seemed necessary and Robbe-Grillet was not present during the filming. When he saw the rough-cut, he said that he found the film just as he had intended it, while recognising how much Resnais had added to make it work on the screen and to fill out what was absent from the script. Despite the close correspondence between the written and filmed works, numerous differences between them have been identified. Two important examples are the choice of music in the film (Francis Seyrig's beautiful gothic score introduces extensive use of a solo organ), and a scene near the end of the film in which the screenplay explicitly describes a rape, where as the film substitutes a series of repeated bleached-out travelling shots moving towards the woman. Yet in subsequent statements by the two authors of the film, it was partly acknowledged that they did not entirely share the same vision of it.

Filming took place over a period of ten weeks between September and November 1960. The locations used for most of the interiors and the gardens were the châteaux of Schleissheim, Nymphenburg and Amalienburg in and around Munich. Additional interior scenes were filmed in the Photosonore-Marignan-Simo studios in Paris. Interestingly enough none of the filming was done in the Czech spa town of Marienbad - and the film does not allow the viewer to know with certainty which, if any, scenes are supposed to be located there. The film continually creates a mystery and uncertainty in what it shows to the viewer and the causal relationships between events. This was mostly achieved through the stylistic editing, giving apparently incompatible information in consecutive shots, or within a shot which seems to show impossible juxtapositions, or by means of repetitions of events in different settings and color. These ambiguities are matched by contradictions in the narrator's voiceover commentary.

Among one of the most famous images in the film is a scene in which two characters (and the camera) rush out on the garden as the shot shows a tableau of figures arranged in a geometric garden and although the people cast long dramatic shadows, the trees in the garden do not. The manner in which the film is edited challenged the established classical style of narrative construction and it allowed the themes of time, space and the mind to interact with the past with greatly breaks up the narrative.

As continuity is destroyed by its methods of filming and editing, the film offers instead a "mental continuity", a continuity of thought. In determining the visual appearance of the film, Resnais said that he wanted to recreate "a certain style of silent cinema", and his direction as well as the actors' make-up worked to create this atmosphere. He even asked Eastman Kodak if they could supply an old-fashioned film stock that would 'bloom' or 'halo' to create the look of a silent film; in which they couldn't. He asked members of his team to look at other silent films including Georg Pabst's Pandora's Box. He wanted the actress Delphine Seyrig's (A) appearance and manner to resemble that of the actress Louise Brooks.

The style of certain silent films is also suggested by the way the characters who populate the hotel are mostly seen in artificial poses, as if frozen in time, rather than behaving naturalistically. One of the things that makes Last Year at Marienbad a unique and compelling film is that the viewer never can quite be sure what is really happening at the hotel; or are even sure if what happened a year earlier, actually did happen at all. Does A ever believe what X is telling her; or does she just give in because she wants to leave M? Is X really in love with A, or is he playing some sort of elaborate game; like the game he always plays but loses against M? And if there has ever been an encounter at Marienbad, which of the individual events mentioned or depicted in the film are real or fantasies, projections, or outright fabrications?

The unique editing in the film changes during a conversation to another completely different shot with the character still finishing its sentence; in which the viewer notices they are in a completely different location and wearing a completely different outfit. Which one is the present and which one is the past; or are they all just fabrications of someones dreams or memory; in a clearly different space and time? The whole sequence of events is narrated by one person and that is of X  who gives us all the info that he can get. Whether the content of his story is the truth or not is something we will never know; and if some of what he says is the truth; which part of it is? What's important to know is that all the above questions are unanswerable; and there is no direct and final answer. The film never provides the viewer with the means to tell what is real and what is fictitious; so us as an audience have to come up with our own conclusions. A closer look at the details of the scenes and events will show that Robbe-Grillet and Resnais purposely went out of their way to make sure that everything in their story is and remains ambiguous and uncertain.

There are many different interpretations to Last Year at Marienbad's fascinating screenplay; that has been debated and talked about for decades; by critics and fans. Some believe it is a version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Some say that it represents the relationship between patient and psychoanalyst, or that it all takes places in the woman's mind. Some believe that it all takes place in the man's mind, and depicts his refusal to acknowledge that he has been responsible in the death of the woman he loved after she is murdered by her lover M. Some believe both the characters are ghosts or dead souls in limbo; where she was killed by M; and X fell through the collapse of the balcony. Some say X is the dialectic of the Cartesian mind and its imprisonment in itself, and X's anxious attempts to get out and to find a real world and other human beings; focuses mostly on A. Some have even gone as far to think that the film has the atmosphere and the form of a dream, that the structure of the film may be understood by the analogy of a recurring dream or even that the man's meeting with the woman is the memory (or dream) of a dream.

Robbe-Grillet says in the introduction to his screenplay, "Two attitudes are then possible: either the spectator will try to reconstitute some 'Cartesian' scheme - the most linear, the most rational he can devise - and this spectator will certainly find the film difficult if not incomprehensible; or else the spectator will let himself be carried along by the extraordinary images in front of him and to this spectator, the film will seem the easiest he has ever seen: a film addressed exclusively to his sensibility, to his faculties of sight, hearing, feeling." Resnais for his part gave a more abstract explanation of the film's purpose. "For me this film is an attempt, still very crude and very primitive, to approach the complexity of thought, of its processes."

My interpretation of the film is the 'rape' theory, in which I believe that this is all a dream of X's which brings out his repressed feelings and guilt on the rape he committed on A, which then also brought upon the murder of A by M; because of a misunderstanding. The way the two character's interact with each other is so unrealistic and most of the time A is either annoyed by X, uninterested or frightened of him for some apparent reason. She rejects him throughout the film and there are times where X shows much anger towards her for either not accepting the story he is telling her or wanting to leave with him. For instance the dialog sequence when they are alone together holding one another feels more like a dreamy philosophical meditation. "What is your name?" A asks X during a somewhat intimate scene in the park outside of the hotel. "It doesn't matter," X replies. This doesn't sound like a conversation between two people who have had a significant encounter a year earlier, and who have made an arrangement to meet again and to possibly elope; this time around. I believe this film is X's dream and originally how he wanted the story to come out to a woman who rejected him.

For instance; in the beginning of the film during the play on stage; when listening carefully the story sounds like a story of rape; and later when confronting A in her bedroom his line of dialog of forcing himself onto her and then retracting the statement by saying....no, it didn't happen this way; is his way of not accepting the horrible truth. He has always been a loser when it comes to winning whether it's playing the game Nim against M or trying to impress the woman he loves, (if he even does love her.) I believe X truly knows his outcome at the end of the story and he knows he will lose; but he doesn't want to accept the harsh truth. And then comes the classic scene of the camera rushing through the corridor and towards A as she embraces him over and over again in a ray of light; in which I believe is his version of him forcing himself onto her; but instead of her realistically pushing him away in disgust she embracing him with open arms; because we are seeing the story the way he wants to see it. When her husband (if it is her husband) misunderstands it for sex he shoots her; which causes her death; and adds the guilt X has to carry around with him; which is probably what causes this dream to occur. I personally don't think he died as well; because having it be a simple ghost interpretation seems too simple for a movie that's so audacious.

The great French director Alain Resnais is one of the most creative French directors of all time. He started out directing a lot of political films and documentaries in the beginning of his career; most importantly Night in Fog which is considered not only one of the greatest documentaries of all time but the most crucial for everyone to see. It was one of the first documentaries that went inside Nazi Germany's death camps; and is a very disturbing but historically important film. Hiroshima Mon Amour; told the story of a French actress filming an anti-war film in Hiroshima who has an affair with a married Japanese architect as they share their different perspectives on the war. That film shook the French film industry and was one of the essential films that started the French New Wave; and is one of Resnais best films. Providence; a film starring Dirk Bogarde and Ellen Burstyn, tells the story of a bitter man who spends one tormenting night in his bed suffering from health problems and thinking up a story based on his relatives. Muriel tells the story of a town in Boulogne where a woman sells antique furniture, living with her step-son, Bernard, who's back from military duty in Algiers. Mon Oncle D' Amerique is about a professor who uses the stories of the lives of three people to discuss behaviorist theories of survival, combat, rewards and punishment. Alain Resnais Last Year at Marienbad is considered his greatest achievement, if not his most important work. This film influenced several film-makers who widely recognised and variously illustrated its style and feel of the film; such as Agnès Varda and Jacques Rivette to international figures like Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and David Lynch's Inland Empire are two films which are usually cited with particular frequency as showing the influence of Marienbad. Last Year at Marienbad is an abstract surreal masterpiece; a baffling puzzle that in many ways is unsolvable and yet still seduces it's viewer by its hypnotic and beautiful mysteries. When first released Last Year at Marienbad was either hailed by critics or royally slammed. It won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice film festival and at the same time was considered an entry in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, by Harry Medved; and an "aimless disaster" by critic Pauline Kael. The split opinions over this experimental film is certainly understandable; since it goes against everything an audience enjoys when going to see a motion picture like, a normal storyline, character development, continuity, conflict and a resolution. It's a very difficult film, but like all great art; everyone comes away with their own interpretations, thoughts and feelings. What critics that even hated the film can't deny is that it is one of the most beautiful looking films of all time that show shots of ornate ceilings, vast drawing rooms, enormous mirrors and reflections, paintings, endless corridors and grounds in which shrubbery has been tortured into geometric shapes and patterns. Like the creative films of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey, David Lynch's Muholland Drive, Ingmar Bergman's Persona and Terrence Mallick's Tree of Life; Last Day at Marienbad is a powerful and entrancing film experience; and the real fun of art is asking the questions because I believe giving the answers is a form of defeat. Most people when first watching Last Year at Marienbad might think the film is boring pretentious art, and that it's deep philosophical meanings are simply rubbish. But like some of the greatest pieces of abstract art, sometimes its best to view it from a completely different perspective, with a completely different mind-frame. Maybe then might you be able to appreciate something.

 

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