Experimental and Avant-Garde : [Last Film I Saw] Last Year at Marienbad (1961) [8/10]

[Last Film I Saw] Last Year at Marienbad (1961) [8/10]

English Title: Last Year at Marienbad
Original Title: L’année dernière à Marienbad
Year: 1961
Country: France, Italy
Language: French
Genre: Drama
Director: Alain Resnais
Alain Resnais
Alain Robbe-Grillet
Music: Francis Seyrig
Cinematography: Sacha Vierny
Giorgio Albertazzi
Delphine Seyrig
Sacha Pitoëff

Recently deceased French auteur Alain Resnais' second full-length feature after the groundbreaking HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959), and LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, the Golden Lion winner in Venice, equally breaks the norms of conventional cinematic language, a trompe l'oeil obscures reality and illusion, Resnais conducts a simultaneous but disparate parallel of our protagonist's genteel voiceover (or soliloquy) narrative and the black-and-white mis en scène on which we are mesmerisingly hooked.

It is a story adapted from Nouveau Roman trend pioneer Alain Robbe-Grillet, a monotonous opening monologue repeats itself while the panning camera steadfastly examining a resplendent baroque chateau, where it stops in a still tableau of the hotel's elegantly-dressed guests expressionlessly gazing at a play. Then X, an Italian man (Albertazzi) encounters A, a brown-hair woman (Seyrig), and he tells her they have met in the same hotel one year ago, but A seems to be oblivious about it.

Ambiguity is the strength and kernel of the film, from its awe-inspiring chiaroscuro credited by its DP Sacha Vierny, to the mathematical Nim game, enigmatic aura suffuses in the majestic but stiff building, X's fervid emotion slowly thaws A's reluctant glacier, it is her attitude spellbinds our attention and propels the progress of the story, Delphine Seyrig is classy, vulnerable and incomprehensible as the film per se, "leave me alone, please" is her knee-jerking response to X's pleading, which like an eternal spell cast on the puzzle. Giorgio Albertazzi is suave, determined, and impassioned to win her over, his dulcet yet soporific voice adeptly puts viewers into a trance-like voyage, like a spectre roaming in the maze-like chateau. The (possible) truth slowly discloses that one year earlier, X and A had an affair in the hotel, they agreed a year later, they would elope from A's dispassionate (may or may not be) husband M (Pitoëff), who repeatedly prevails X in the Nim games.

There is the intrusive church organ music constantly reminding us what we watch is an oratorio rather than an immoral adultery, X's verbose sentiment and A's pithy response conjures up an otherworldly entanglement so arbitrarily clichéd, glosses over the centre element and borders on affected unconventionality, self-indulged artifice. But its one-of-a-kind visual palette and art production, top-notch tableau vivant, nippy camera movement, unpredictable editing, are all irresistible for film aficionados, it is a magic wonderland to profess how cinema can do wonders, how it can defy any categorisation and being equivalently enthralling, it is a godsend and Resnais did establish some genuine work tough to beat for any late comers.

Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench