Monday, May 16, 2011

Is 'Last Year in Marienbad' Incomprehensible?

Having just watched Alain Resnais' 1961 film Last Year in Marienbad, I must confess I fell victim to its hypnotic and often haunting atmosphere. While the cinematography is absolutely stunning and the score incredible, the events of the film are incomprehensible. I could make no sense of it at all. Following a non-linear narrative style, events from the present and the past are fragmented, mixed together and rhythmically repeated in a visual kaleidoscope. It tells the story of a love triangle set within a labyrinthine and spacious baroque hotel. One of the guests, an unnamed man, tries to persuade a married woman that they had shared an affair a year previously. She doesn't recall, but he begins to relay conversations and encounters involving the two, which culminated in her asking him to meet her at this hotel exactly a year later, so that they could elope from their highly formal society and their individual constraints. I guess we are never meant to know whether this previous encounter ever took place. I found it impossible to tell which scenes were in the present, and which was the recalled flashbacks. The woman has several costume changes (she wears white, and black) and even gets shot at one point, and while they were supposed to have met in Marienbad or some other town, all we ever see are a variety of alternate realities set within this one hotel. I really enjoyed the film, but the combination of the trance-like imagery and the solemn and monotonous voice-over made me a little dozy. Can anyone shed some light on this intriguing film?


  1. I had the same reaction as you, I can't say I disliked the film. I found it to be very unique and unforgettable, but I still can't make any sense of any of it.
    One of the most puzzling films I've ever seen.

    If you liked this I would also recommend Hiroshima, Mon Amour, by the same director. It's a much better film.

  2. Wow, it sounds intriguing. By the way Andy, are you following events of the Cannes film festival? There is a nice film i've heard about from it called The Artist(a silent movie) critics are talking about it. You should check it out if you can

  3. @ Jack - It is very intriguing, and I have this compulsion to make sense of it. I have heard of the other one you mention, i might check it out. Thanks!

    @ Anonymous - I haven't been following Cannes too much, although I am seeing Tree of Life and Sleeping Beauty when they come to Sydney next month. I have heard mixed reviews about Sleeping Beauty. There was a silent film playing at Cannes? Sounds very interesting. Thanks for the recommendation, i'll keep an eye out for it!

  4. @ Anonymous - I just saw a wonderful trailer for The Artist on another blog. It looks amazing. All of a sudden, I can't wait to see it haha. It's playing out of competition (along with Pirates 4 and The Beaver etc.) so it will likely have a pretty wide release later in the year.