A frantic Elisabeth struggles with Simon on their bedroom floor. Apparently Simon has had a heart attack. Dr. Rozier pronounces him dead.
After the doctor has left, though, light as air Simon descends the corkscrew staircase that reminds us of the spiral staircase encapsulating the mysteries of Time in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Simon, we learn, abandoned wife and children a couple of months earlier to live with Elisabeth. Are we watching Elisabeth’s fantasy of Simon’s resurrection? “I don’t think I loved you before,” Elisabeth declares. “Before?” “Before your death.”
Directing from Jean Gruault’s script, Resnais tweaks Time in L’amour à mort. A genetic botanist, Elisabeth works toward the future; an archaeologist, Simon digs into the past. At a site, Elisabeth tells Simon, “Here come Judith and Jérôme,” a long-married couple, both ministers, and Simon’s oldest friends. A long-shot follows, which we expect to be a point-of-view shot of the Martignacs’ arrival; but Elisabeth and Simon are also in the shot, making their way down a hill. Time has turned, briefly collapsed.
Resnais has stated that music set the film’s course. (Hans Werner Henze is the composer.) Simon is haunted by music he heard when he was “[a]mong the dead,” which eludes his memory, however. But we hear it periodically, the accompaniment to full-screen inserts of vast mystery: dark heavens in which white specks float around representing stars, snowflakes, drifts of Time. (This implicitly placed us “[a]mong the dead.”) Sometimes the inserts are only blackness, and sometimes the inserts are so frequent that the human drama seems what’s inserted.
As Simon dies again Elisabeth promises to join him. They already seem a fully meshed couple; the Martignacs, an unmeshed one. Resnais’s final shots suggest that the film has always really been about the Martignacs.
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