Last Year at Marienbad Movie Review

Upon its release in France, Alain Resnais' Last Year in Marienbad caused the streets surrounding local cinemas to be crowded by intellectuals, college students, and nouvelle vague die-hards. In the US, it posited itself in theaters alongside the release of another visual haiku on questionable existence -- Roger Corman's Premature Burial. It would later be spoofed by Woody Allen, get outright cribbed by Stanley Kubrick and Almodóvar, be recognized as a seminal work by giddy surrealists, and denounced as one of the worst films ever made by right-wing talking heads. It would also serve as the basis for Brit-rock pioneers Blur's video for "To the End."

It remains, however, a work of compressed and canny nothingness -- liquefied time dribbled over the remains of a love affair that may or may not have happened. A testament to leading lady Delphine Seyrig's virile gaze, Resnais has famously stated that the film is about nothing but this wouldn't stop the critical forge to make it into everything. Jonas Mekas claimed it nothing but a "pretentious ornament" while a pre-Kael New Yorker likened it to Finnegan's Wake; the New York Times' claim that it was "the 'furtherest out' movie we've ever had" would be laughable even if the publication wasn't printed on Jack Smith's home planet. Marriages ended; friends became blood enemies; sons and daughters were disowned for the length of its 33-week run at The Carnegie.

Coming back to Marienbad something like six years after I first encountered it in college, I found myself more at ease with it and less thirsty for any ludicrous "meaning" it might have past its filmmaking prowess. Filled with mirrors, close-ups, and that black cloud of organs and strings, it remains a rapturous thing to gaze upon, thanks in no small part to the genius touch of Resnais' regular cinematographer Sacha Vierny. Depicting a party of ghosts and a garden in the guise of oblivion, Resnais' formidable illusion doesn't seem to have a point and, more importantly, doesn't pretend that it does.

A substantial moment in Resnais' salad days, Marienbad followed the director's breakthrough, Hiroshima mon amour, and preceded perhaps his most challenging work, Muriel. Unlike those films, however, the director's amorphous haunted mansion demands the viewer's return, littering one's brain with its hypnotic, puzzling refrains, abnormal, sweeping movement and choreographed stillness. Constantly disintegrating and reappearing in one figure's head, Marienbad is nonetheless allergic to psychology and seemingly unaware of its potent mood.

Similarly unreadable, the film has been noted as a large influence on David Lynch's bulky Inland Empire and, like Resnais' film, I have found myself less-and-less frustrated with Lynch's monster on subsequent viewings. They are both of that rare breed of filmmaking based almost solely on the act of experiencing film without anchoring -- both works offer characters and settings but no personas nor structure. Whereas Empire overplays its hand and begins to grate in its last hour, however, Marienbad hits your bloodstream immediately and leaves you while you are still ensnared in its ethereal tentacles. It's inexplicable and lovely; a fever dream without symptoms, an asylum run by the inmates.

Aka L'année dernière à Marienbad.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : Pierre Courau, Raymond Froment

Starring : , Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoëff

Comments

Last Year at Marienbad Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1961

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