Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

aka L’annee derniere a Marienbad
Article 3366 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-19-2010
Posting Date: 11-1-2010
Directed by Alain Resnais
Featuring Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoeff
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Art film

At a luxurious hotel, a man tries to convince a woman that they met last year (either here or somewhere else), but the woman does not seem to remember.

It’s considered an art film classic by many and reviled by others; I first encountered the title from the Medveds’ book “The 50 Worst Films of All Time”, to give you an example of the latter. It’s easy to see why there is such a variance of opinion; the movie is infuriating because it doesn’t play by the rules that we’re expecting, and if you get caught up in trying to figure out what is “real” or “true”, it could drive you crazy. It’s at least partially about the defectiveness of memory. There’s no doubt it has a fascinating visual quality, and at times it almost feels like a silent film. There are moments of high drama, but they’re fleeting and possibly deceptive. There are moments where what we see and what we hear are not in sync; for example, during a concert we see two violinists and hear an organ. The question becomes – do we believe what we see or what we hear, or does it alternate? And if it alternates, what do we believe when? It’s a fascinating movie in its way. Of course, the fact that I’m covering it means that I must address the nature of its fantastic content. All I can say is this; when a movie is this ambiguous, than the fantastic content could be anything a feverish imagination might conjure up. I do know this much; there are moments where the man speculates if the woman he is speaking with is alive, and we see a scene later on that makes it look as if the woman has been murdered by the man who may be her husband. But in a movie of this nature, that’s no proof of anything. As to whether the movie is a classic or a piece of twaddle, let’s just say that it’s an enigma, and how much you take to it may depend on how much you like enigmas.

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