On the surface the film has a straightforward plot. A French actress Elle (Emmanuelle Riva) is staying in Hiroshima for a few days shooting a movie about peace. There she meets a Japanese architect named Lui (Eiji Okada) with whom she has a one night stand. Despite the fact that both of them are married they find themselves falling love with one another.
In a short time Elle shreds her usual romantic indifference and begins to recall the tragedy of her lost first love with a German soldier during the occupation of France in World War II. In minute detail she recalls the joy and then pain of that love. And over the course of two days she falls in love with her interlocutor.
This would seem a bit trite if it weren't so provocative and beautiful in its construction The film's simplicity is belied by the fact that it compares and contrasts the tragedy of Hiroshima with the tragedy of young love. On the surface, the idea that the suffering of a young woman whose lover has died can be compared to the tragedy of 200,000 deaths is a bit of a stretch, to be sure. But Resnais and screenwriter Marguerite Duras never explicitly compare the two. Instead they explore the nature of forgetting and remembering with regard to human emotions.
The beauty and power of the film comes primarily from the editing, which from the film's first cut, is both brilliant and evocative. In the first 15 minutes Resnais uses a poetic, elliptical editing structure that shuffles black and white images of amorous close-ups, newsreel footage, and reconstructed war footage together to draw us into the theme of memory. After that the editing slows a bit and draws us into the budding romance while still juxtaposing the past and the present in fascinating ways.
The film posits the very simple question, "How can we forget tragedy?" Yet it never directly answers that question so much as skirts the issue and lets the audience decide for themselves the beauty, horror, and reflection of memory.
Hiroshima mon amour also deals with contrasts and opposites such as love and death, war and peace, living and remembering, as well as dealing with two people from different parts of the world: one from France and one from Japan (both of whom in a post-WWII world would have been viewed differently than today). The title too -- Hiroshima mon amour -- is an oxymoron. It refers both to the most atrocious bombing of the 20th century and to that of the nature of personal love.
Both of the characters in the movie have been described by many critics as being symbolic characters who fit into the film's bigger message. But Emmanuelle Riva, in her first starring role, gives such an amazing performance with such delicate and compelling moments that to write her off as being merely symbolic is at best inappropriate. Eiji Okada too gives an effective performance albeit as a more strong and silent type.
Technical credits include an alluring yet poignant musical score by Georges Delarue and amazing silky black and white cinematography by Sacha Vierney both of which lend much to the film's overall design.
The Criterion Collection DVD looks fabulous and has a remarkable audio commentary by Peter Cowie who is, as always, insightful, scholarly, and engaging from start to finish. There are also two interviews with Alain Resnais and two interviews with Emmanuelle Riva - one vintage and one current. The other notable extra on the DVD are excerpts from Marguerite Duras' annotations to the screenplay. On the inside cover is a 12 page booklet with a couple of essays and a discussion of the film by some members of the French New Wave.
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Monday 16th May 1960
Box Office USA: $83.3k
Distributed by: Rialto Pictures
Production compaines: Argos
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
IMDB: 7.9 / 10
Director: Alain Resnais
Screenwriter: Marguerite Duras
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