DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (Année dernière à Marienbad, L') (director: Alain Resnais; screenwriters: Alain Robbe-Grillet/from the novel The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares; cinematographer: Sacha Vierny; editors: Henri Colpi/Jasmine Chasney; music: Francis Seyrig; cast: Delphine Seyrig (A/Woman), Giorgio Albertazzi (X/Stranger), Sacha Pitoeff (M/Escort/Husband); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Raymond Froment/Pierre Corau; Fox Lorbor; 1961-France/Italy-in French with English subtitles)

 
"How one takes to such a deceptively ambiguous film depends on one's attitude toward unconventional films."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

French director Alain Resnais's ("Hiroshima Mon Amour") presents a puzzling avant-garde surrealist film that is never solved. It is devilishly scripted by nouveau roman Alain Robbe-Grillet. It’s set on the grounds of a luxurious baroque European chateau, where the upper-class protagonists are on a holiday. Resnais has claimed that this experimental parable had no meaning to figure out, but that has not dissuaded the viewer from diving head first into coming up with an explanation. The director also said that he filmed four different ways for the film to end, and that any of the endings would work.

It's a seductive story about a handsome nameless man called X (Giorgio Albertazzi), who tries to persuade a, possibly, married elegant nameless woman called A (Delphine Seyrig) that they met the previous year and had an affair at a spa called Marienbad--or was it perhaps Fredericksburg? She's a guest at the hotel with her husband or escort (Sacha Pitoeff), who is referred to only as M and seems to have some control over her. The stranger convincingly goes on to say that she promised to run away with him if he could wait a year. But the truth of that is never made certain, as the women though repeatedly reminded of things that happened at the spa says she can't recall them. 

The men at one point play a bizarre game with matchsticks. It involves setting out several rows of matchsticks and removing as many of them as they want, but only from one row at a time. The loser is the player who is left with the last matchstick. I don't know what it means, but M always wins.

It is gorgeously shot by Sacha Vierny in sweeping black-and-white photography with mysterious shadings hinting at a timeless feeling. The film moves ever obsessively between past, present, and the future, reshuffling chronological order into irrelevant terms. Hauntingly it also confuses memory and fantasy, fear and desire, and leaves a stylishly unsettling mood lingering. Vierny's silky clean tracking shots along the richly ornate hotel corridors and the dreamlike quality of the story and the intense detachment by the actors, allow this uniquely cerebral and hallucinatory film to feel like a masterpiece even though one can't really be sure what it's really about. It might be a parody of the gloss of a Hollywood romantic film, or just wonderful nonsense elevated to magnificence. In this film, you can't take anything for certain. How one takes to such a deceptively ambiguous film depends on one's attitude toward unconventional films. This smells to me like a game of kitsch, but nevertheless was pleasingly entertaining and intellectual.

REVIEWED ON 2/20/2004        GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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