Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

The new print of this that's currently playing at the Nuart is a must-see for anyone in Los Angeles who might enjoy this French classic, because seeing these images and hearing that creepy organ music on the big screen is an overwhelming experience.

The plot on paper is simple: At a high-class resort hotel, a man repeatedly tries to convince a woman that a year earlier, she had agreed to run away from her husband with him. That's what you'd write on the back of the DVD, but the movie itself takes that plot and twists it into your basic New Wave mindbender freak-out, a puzzle movie with an oppressive mood of destabilization and uncertainty. It's terrific.

I tried to write a conventional review of this movie, but all I was coming up with were cliches, because I couldn't really express what this movie is about, but then I realized that what this movie is about is not knowing, and that the pleasure of the film is indulging in a heightened mood of confusion, finding yourself enmeshed in a system that seems tantalizingly close to comprehension but always just beyond your grasp, like the match game played repeatedly, or the loops of dialogue or imagery that repeat in an almost musical structure.

Pauline Kael hated this movie, as she tended to hate all the major works of heavy modernism of the 1960s, the films of Antonioni, 2001, and so on, because she had a problem with the lumbering white-elephant qualities of the time. What she missed about Marienbad is that it's a very playful movie, mercurial in its twists and turns even as it maintains a mood of being trapped in a wax museum - in its own way, this movie is the greatest Twilight Zone episode ever made.

Today few filmmakers make films about Big Questions like the meaning of life or questions of epistemology, how we remember events and 'know' anything, as Resnais does here. It's an amazing film that I highly recommend.


Actionman said...

sounds like a great film...I want to check it out

Jeff McMahon said...

This print is probably a sign that there's a Criterion DVD in the future, by the end of the year maybe.

Actionman said...

That would be sweet...I just noticed that it's not yet available on dvd.

cjkennedy said...

I missed my last chance to see this tonight. I suck. I meant to head over there and check it out too.

The strange thing is, I had no use for Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour after one viewing, but I really responded to the equally fruity Last Year at Marienbad.

They're both the kinds of movies that turn off people who hate art films, but there is something inexplicably captivating about Marienbad.

It's the sort of vague, beguiling, elusive film that filmmakers not named David Lynch don't have the stones to make anymore.

Jeff McMahon said...

I had a similar reaction to Hiroshima, I respected and liked it but couldn't say that it had that big of an impact on me, possibly it's one of those movies that has become so influential so as to dilute its own actual impact on modern viewers. But I rented the DVD and plan to watch it again soon.