War storstory

Pasatiempo - - Art In Review -

Hiroshima, Mon Amour, drama, in French with sub­ti­tles, Jean Cocteau Cin­ema, 4 chiles When Alain Res­nais made Hiroshima, Mon Amour in 1959, the atomic dev­as­ta­tion of the Ja­panese ci­ties of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki was as re­cent and raw a wound as the World Trade Cen­ter at­tack of Sept. 11, 2001, is to us to­day.

The Amer­i­can bomb that dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, brought the world face to face with the ex­is­ten­tial threat of an­ni­hi­la­tion. By 1959, the hy­dro­gen bomb had sup­planted the atomic ver­sion, its awe­some fu­sion power as much as 1,000 times more de­struc­tive than that of its pre­de­ces­sor, its po­ten­tial un­lim­ited. In Amer­i­can schools, chil­dren were learn­ing to “duck and cover,” tak­ing refuge from the end of the world by hid­ing un­der their desks. And in Paris, a doc­u­men­tary film­maker named Alain Res­nais was ap­proached by the pro­duc­ers of Night and Fog, his crit­i­cally ac­claimed 1955 film on Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps, with a com­mis­sion to make a doc­u­men­tary about Hiroshima.

Res­nais turned the project down. How could you make a mean­ing­ful doc­u­men­tary about some­thing so in­com­pre­hen­si­bly ter­ri­ble? But a con­ver­sa­tion with a friend, the nov­el­ist Mar­guerite Duras, led to an ap­proach he thought would work — a meld­ing of doc­u­men­tary and fic­tion, over­laid with mem­ory, mov­ing back and forth in time — as a way of get­ting at the sub­ject that would sug­gest the hor­rors of Hiroshima with­out try­ing to de­fine them.

With its in­no­va­tive, im­pres­sion­is­tic struc­ture, Hiroshima, Mon Amour is of­ten cited as one of the most in­flu­en­tial films of the 20th cen­tury. It was un­like any­thing that had come be­fore. As Res­nais’ con­tem­po­rary Jean-Luc Go­dard put it, “The very first thing that strikes you about this film is that it is to­tally de­void of any cin­e­matic ref­er­ences. You can de­scribe Hiroshima as Faulkner plus Stravin­sky, but you can’t iden­tify it as such and such a film-maker plus such and such another.”

To­day the nar­ra­tive and edit­ing tech­niques Res­nais de­vel­oped have been ab­sorbed into the lan­guage of film, and the movie doesn’t seem as rad­i­cal as it did when it first opened in New York in the spring of 1960, when it en­tranced and baf­fled au­di­ences and crit­ics in equal mea­sure. It has lost some of its strange­ness, but it still has the power to mes­mer­ize.

With its screen­play by Duras steep­ing it in lit­er­ary id­iom, the film opens with a close-up of the naked bod­ies of two lovers en­twined on a bed. We see arms, hands, and legs, but no faces, as the woman talks of what she has seen in Hiroshima — what she has learned from news­reels, pho­tos, hos­pi­tals, mu­se­ums — her ac­count ac­com­pa­nied by doc­u­men­tary film clips of the hor­rors of the bomb’s af­ter­math; and the man’s Ja­panese-ac­cented voice in­tones, re­peat­edly, “Tu n’as rien vu á Hiroshima” (You saw noth­ing in Hiroshima).

When the cam­era fi­nally pulls back, we are with a beau­ti­ful young cou­ple, a French ac­tress (Em­manuelle Riva) who has come to make a film about peace, and a

Speak, mem­o­ries:

Eiji Okada and Em­manuelle Riva

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