What are we looking at? The opening of Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, mon amour is beautiful and mysterious: in darkness, glistening forms. Out of this formless mass, with its primordial echo, two bodies gradually appear: a couple making love. She is a French actress, in Hiroshima for an anti-war shoot; He, a Japanese architect. The earlier glitter? Symbolically, the radioactivity from which nothing in Hiroshima can escape? Its indeterminate nature and that of the initial forms: the awful experience of Hiroshima that She cannot know about, no matter her investigation of the commemorative museum there, or She’s awful experience at Nevers that He cannot know about, no matter how much She reminisces. Strangers, the two spend a day together, having sex, walking, having a drink together: passing time, emptying time, phantom/persons setting their souls to the rhythm of time.
Philosopher Henri Bergson wrote that human consciousness is a memory. Resnais’s first feature is attuned to this suggestion. It is a complex fugue on the interplay of time, memory, history and intimacy, intricately edited, with slow forward trackings (through hotel, hospital, streets, etc., edited at the outset into a single movement) suggesting an ambling mind homing in on itself, with flashbacks giving the impression of a soft rainshower, and with Marguerite Düras’s solemn, repetitive prose pitched somewhere between the articulate and the unspoken or unspeakable.
Exquisitely sensitive, Emmanuèlle Riva plays the actress who is searching somebody else’s past, which is, at some level, really her own. Her fleeting affair with the architect triggers memories of her earlier “forbidden” love for a German soldier during the Occupation. Or is this memory a dream of history, the guilty personal rendering of a national shame?
Despite a patina of preciousness (French cinema’s Achilles’ heel), here is adventurous filmmaking.