ALAIN RESNAIS: THE ART OF MEMORY AND THE ASPECT OF FORGETTING

L’ Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad),  1961

Hiroshima mon amour, 1959

What is a person’s life, but the memories that he or she leaves behind in the minds of the living, and so does this mean that our proof of existence lies only in the acknowledgement by the other beings? While watching the works of the French director, Alain Resnais, one finds they are constantly battling with such thoughts. Seeing his whole body of work, from the 1940s to 2014, it is quite easy to read that the filmmaker has been preoccupied with the idea of memory and the unfortunate aspect of forgetting. Resnais explores all aspects of memory, whether it is a persona or a collective memory, and the various effect it has on people, from nostalgia to trauma. Whether it is a documentary, like Night and Fog, or a feature film, like Hiroshima mon Amour, Resanis’ fluent and poetical visual composition manages to impart beautifully his complex and multi-layered ideas of memory, time and dementia.

The form and content of his films defied linearity and chronology, and so with this technique, Resnais transformed the idea of time in cinema. Along with this his employment of the long deep shadows, which are thrown across the landscape that fills up the screen Resnais visually articulated his philosophy of memory, how memories are remembered in a fragmented form in the human mind, and how they play out in the mind once they are recalled, the nostalgia they allude to, the fear of remorse and longing they incite, and the horror of regrets. For him, memory is a hybrid of factual truth and imagination, and Last Year at Marienbad is a remarkable example of this theory of him. Exactly like his characters, who try to piece up their memories and experiences to gain some meaning and understanding of their and each others lives, the viewers too engage in a similar activity to understand the film narrative.

Watching the films by Resanis is like a journey into the mind, and hence what we are watching on the screen seems like a presentation of a series of disjointed overlapping memories in the mind of various characters playing out for us to work through. He revolutionized the idea and objective of cinema, reimagining its potentials, making films that were not only deeply philosophical and though provoking, but also aesthetically emotive and poetic.

L’ Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad),  1961