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I've (obviously) been enjoying the new print of Last Year at Marienbad that's playing for a week in San Francisco. I once tried to imagine seeing no film but this one for the rest of my life, and Michael Smith recently remarked that he'd see every screening if it were possible. It's a dense and abstract film, and I never get tired of it. I've caught this new print twice so far and hope to duck in at least once more before the run is through, which will make this an unusual week for me. I do like to see dense movies more than once, but rarely do I have the opportunity — or desire — to see them more than twice in such a short span of time.

But this one, for me, is different. For instance, here are a few things I've noticed for the first time this week:

  • There's a dude who resembles Hitchcock who can be seen in profile near the beginning, standing in the shadows on the right side of the frame, perched on one foot almost like he's hovering, or like he's a cardboard cutout.
  • When the man who might be Delphine Seyrig's husband approaches the bed in her room, while she's reclining, his footsteps are clearly audible — a slow clop, clop, slide, clop — but he's walking on carpet. Of course the opening dialogue repeatedly describes carpets so thick and heavy in this old baroque hotel that the sound of no footstep reaches the ear. The speaker has a muddled memory, and we must remember that the images and sounds are no objective arbiter of the characters' conflicting recollections.
  • Shot after shot after shot is a puzzle and a trick, but they come so quickly that I don't have time to work them all out. Such as: the man and the possible husband are seated at a card table, staring each other down; the camera glides past to see first them then other people playing games (including pick-up-sticks, so sophisticated), and then after gliding for a few seconds it alights once again on the man we saw at the beginning, this time walking toward us through the hallway. Or: the tracking shot down a corridor that heads straight toward a wall of shimmering mirrors... in which we of course see no camera.
  • Was it Pauline Kael (I can't find a link) who remarked that the two-person pyramid game that is so closely associated with this film functions like a Western shootout. Indeed it does! And the clock chimes near the end, as we approach high noon at the OK Staircase.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

I've seen Hiroshima, mon amour on this same big screen, and if I could shape the theater's calendar like clay, I'd have shown it the week before Marienbad, and then followed them up with Muriel next week, which I've only seen once (at the PFA). The actual program has Vertigo playing next week, which shows here often, but I can't complain. It's a nice way to blend the mind warp of this baroque hotel with the city in which I sit, for an entirely different sort of mind warp.

UPDATE (3/27/08): more thoughts after another viewing

Posted by davis | Link
Reader Comments
March 25, 2008, 03:18 PM

Too cool, Rob. What a treat it must be to see this. Marienbad was one of the first major experimental films I saw early in my cinematic "education", and I remember being confounded and simultaneously thrilled by it. I've seen it multiple times since then, but I don't think I've noticed some of the things you've pointed out here. Gonna have to keep them in mind when I revisit it. Good point about the ultimate limitations of the sound -- all part of those "conflicting recollections".

I've never seen Hiroshima mon amour on a large screen, even though it's my favorite film. That would be like a religious experience. I'd probably want the whole theater to myself, at least just once -- so I could connect with the film entirely without distraction or communal mediation.

Yes, I am a geek, but man I love Resnais' early films.

March 25, 2008, 03:26 PM

The sound of those footsteps must be deliberate. It's too perfect. And surely no foley artist, who must be watching and counting footfalls with a microscope, would be so careless as to make loafers on a rug sound like tap tap tap. I love it.

The only time I've seen Hiroshima, mon amour on the big screen was at San Francisco's annual Asian-American film festival. They often have some inspired programming choices, and for the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb, they showed Resnais' film. I was a little unsure about how the audience would take it -- a packed house full of people who I imagine were attending lots of the festival's current Asian fare, much of it silly and entertaining -- and while I do remember hearing a few confused remarks at the end, the audience was respectful during the screening, and I think it was a meaningful experience for many. I know it was for me.

March 25, 2008, 07:30 PM

You know, Rob, that's quite a telling story about seeing Hiroshima, mon amour at the festival -- I can see how the film would instill a certain level of respect among audiences, not only for the opening footage of survivors, but for the haunting tale of memory and isolation. I'm not sure if you own the Criterion edition, but it's definitely worth it -- the essays and interviews (with Godard, Kast, Rivette, and others) in the included booklet are invaluable.

March 26, 2008, 01:12 AM

Yeah, I think it's also likely that a fair number of people in the audience may have had a personal connection to the events -- through friends or family -- since this was an Asian film festival in a city with a relatively large Japanese and Asian population. That, plus the somber occasion, may have all come together for a meaningful screening.

I don't collect a lot of DVDs these days, but that sounds like one that I should have. I think I have some kind of prerelease version of the disk, or something, without the packaging, booklet, and bonus material, but it seems like the real deal would be worth the $30, not a bad price for Criterion.