Sunday, March 21, 2021

Hiroshima, Mon Amour (France - Japan, 1959)

Directed by Alain Resnais and written by Marguerite Duras (the famous French novelist), this film is considered groundbreaking for many reasons and it is still studied in cinema universities around the world for its language, narration, lyricism. It is one of the most acclaimed films of the French new wave and for a good reason. Innovative, strong and emotional at the same time, complex and simple, silent and subtle, this film runs smoothly and gives a plenty of sensations to the audience.

How to talk about a tragedy without being too graphic? We are aware of the atomic bombs detonated in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively on August 6th and 9th , 1945 and the horrifying loss of lives and suffering that they caused. How to keep the memory of facts alive in a touching, respectful way? It was an even more relevant question back to the production time of this film considering that those matters were shown on screen only 14 years after the tragedy.

Alain Resnais intended to make this film as a documentary at first but after a while he decided to add some fictional elements to it. It started with an embraced couple covered with nuclear dust. The woman is a French actress who went to Hiroshima to make a film about peace. The man was a Japanese architect. They both had an adventure that lasted a little more than 24 hours. She is in the last day of her work and then will immediately return to France. He would like her to stay a little longer. They are foreigners and also married to other people and are well-aware that their romance cannot possibly last. They are not named.

They started to talk. She said she had seen a lot from Hiroshima and he disagreed saying that she had seen nothing. This is the opposition between being on the place where the facts actually happened versus being away from the facts but having heard of them later on. She claimed that she had seen it all because she visited the city, she was in a hospital, in the museum. He still disagreed although he was not actually in Hiroshima when the bombs exploded because he was in the army. But he had family there and he was born in Hiroshima. Here we see a dichotomy that will last throughout the film, which is forget x remember.

A fragmented narration, being led by the memory of the characters. She told him about her first love, a German soldier who she met in her home city of Nevers while it was occupied by the Nazi army. When the war was about to end and both were planning to elope, he ended up being killed. Her family and neighbors found out about her relationship and she was deeply ostracized by her family and community, to the point that her family disowning her and her father had to close his pharmacy because of the shame. After some time of intense suffering she left her home city and went to Paris and she arrived in Paris on the day of the Hiroshima bombing. It is interesting that the day of bombing meant a new beginning both in her life and in the life of her Japanese lover.

The actress had this big trauma about the death of her love when she was younger, she continued to live, but those experiences remained inside her and they resurfaced when she was in Hiroshima, as physical and historical distance do not prevent people from having their memories with them. Even when we are no longer consciously aware of the past, it is still there in our subconscious mind, only waiting for an opportunity to return in full force.

The film was very competent in portraying the eroticism of the couple in a touching and non graphic way, at the same time showing the intensity of the feelings and attraction they had for each other. It is very interesting to see that although their love affair was extremely brief, we can see both people looking tenderly to each other, treating each other in the most caring way, trying to enjoy every minute of a beautiful story. This almost poetic atmosphere was enabled by the excellent acting by both Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada. At the time of the production of his film Okada could not speak French and he learned his lines phonetically. The result was excellent and he spoke French very well with only a slight accent that gave his character an extra layer of charm. The audiences can easily empathize with her, but he was also so human so intense that we like him in the same extent.

We must also bear in mind that at the time it was still not very common to see an inter racial couple on screen, but there is no room to think about it because what we actually see is two human beings dealing with their feelings, memories, love.

On the other hand, the sequence where the French actress talked about her past in Nevers and the traumatic loss of her first love can be tiresome for nowadays’ audiences. Emmanuelle Riva engaged in a very long monologue while her lover carefully listened and even role played her old boyfriend in what looked like a therapy session at times. This scene could have been more balanced if they both have talked about their memories instead of only one person talking and the other one mostly listening. The film also often try to go really deep into the actress’ psychological character and at times she seems to act unreasonably or over stressed. The scenery is also noteworthy. We can often see the French woman walking in empty places, streets that were almost deserted, which highlight the emptiness she felt deep into her soul.

The end is really powerful when she tells him that she will forget about him, that she had actually already forgotten about him. Then she said to him that Hiroshima was his name in what looks like an attempt of her to have him on her mind as just a nameless man, just somebody she had casually met in Hiroshima without too much importance. Surprisingly, he agreed with her and said that it was actually his name and he told her that her name was Nevers, Nevers in France. This is how the film told the audiences that no matter where we go, what we do, how long it takes and we are all shaped by our past experiences, roots, culture. We may try to forget, we can deceive ourselves but in the end those experiences shaped our personality to such an extent that we would have been completely different people without them.