Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais, 1959)

Traumas and memories coalesce in Alain Resnais’ debut, Hiroshima Mon Amour. Though it primarily follows the brief romance between a French actress and a Japanese architect, which is nourished by long, stark conversations, the film is also fundamentally about the aftermath of human destruction. Here, Hiroshima has slowly regrown from the horrors of the atomic bomb; yet, there are still traces of the tragedy everywhere, and they cannot be easily erased by the passage of time. Resnais meditates on the ways in which memories that continue to linger both comprise our essential beings, yet also act to tear us apart, using the experimentalism of Nouvelle Vague to emphasise this shifting balance through verbal repetition, sharp cuts, a stripped-down score, and a non-linear approach to the plot.

It’s a good film, made even better by Emmanuelle Riva’s riveting performance of deep, swirling intensity and the fabulous photography. But it kept holding me at arm’s length. Holding me back and saying, Don’t get too involved; admire from afar, but you’ll be incinerated if you venture any nearer. So I had no choice but to stand back. From that vantage, I couldn’t help but wonder if the allegory this film partakes in would work anymore, or if there’s something problematic about glomming the deaths of millions onto a fleeting love affair. At any rate, the first viewing left me on the cold side, though there’s still a lot to admire. Another viewing may improve my perception, and maybe another one is needed.