Directed by: Alain Resnais || Produced by: Samy Halfon, Anatole Dauman
Screenplay by: Marguerite Duras || Starring: Emmanuele Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud
Music by: Georges Delerue, Giovanni Fusco || Cinematography: Michio Takahashi, Sacha Vierny || Edited by: Jasmine Chasney, Henri Colpi, Anne Sarraute || Country: France, Japan || Language: French, Japanese, English
Running Time: 90 minutes
One of the more excruciating viewing experiences I was forced to endure during my undergraduate higher education was watching “the Birth of a Nation (1915) of the French New Wave,” Alain Resnais’ interracial romantic epic and post World War II-retrospective, Hiroshima Mon Amour. I have mixed feelings regarding many quintessential works of the French New Wave, but for the most part, I can appreciate the influential works of Jean Luc Goddard and Francois Truffaut, among others, for what they are as filmic craft, and more viscerally as emotionally potent storytelling. Resnais’ bland, drawn out, and meditative interpretation of an otherwise intriguing screenplay from acclaimed screenwriter Marguerite Duras, however, does not hold up to modern standards of narrative pacing, abstract editing, or interesting characterizations. Like Breathless (1960) or Pierrot Le Fou (1965), I recognize the cinematographic precursors that Hiroshima Mon Amour (henceforth, HMA) pioneered for future mainstream filmmaking, but unlike those and other contemporary groundbreaking works of European cinema, I find this piece of “Left Bank Cinema” a total bore and uninspiring as a singular film.
The premise of HMA concerns a traveling French actress (the prolific Emmanuelle Riva) preparing to leave her Japanese fling and former Imperial soldier (Eiji Okada), who engage in a series of prolonged discussions about their personal lives, the then recent bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the nature of human memory. Thematically speaking, HMA touches upon a broad range of sociopolitical issues stemming from the Second Great War, from American nuclear butchery to the Nazi occupation of Riva’s native France to the rapidly globalizing, post-industrial world that would follow. Much of this material is fascinating on paper, and is the sort of content upon which film critics, artsy film buffs, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gorge.
What makes this material excruciating for me is Resnais’ cinematic execution; I appreciate his then thought-provoking use of flashbacks and non-linear narrative imagery, once again, but I cannot in good conscience applaud this particular project as a whole when it is this, well, dull. Riva and Okada’s endless, repetitive dialogue is pretentious and monotone, wearing out its welcome within the first twenty minutes, and distracts from the otherwise captivating black-and-white cinematography. Furthermore, the editing of these alluring images is so slow I was shocked to confirm HMA’s 90-minute running time after the fact; the film moves at such a snail’s pace I was fooled into thinking it was over two and a half hours long!
That being said, pinpointing HMA’s self-absorbed dialogue and poor pacing doesn’t come close to summarizing my utter contempt for this aimless bore of a film. I might have accepted Resnais’ approach if HMA was a 15-minute short, but as a feature-length narrative, his borderline incoherent editing and almost surrealist cinematography make no sense to me. He uses almost no establishing shots, intersperses traditional editing and dramatic scenes within surrealist montages seemingly at random, and never decides whether to develop Riva and Okada as complete characters or one-dimensional, thematic placeholders. Perhaps the closest analogous filmmaking experience would be Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives (2013) or The Neon Demon (2016) if those films had no plot, relatable characters, color, or interesting music — in other words, no substance and minimal style.
Hiroshima Mon Amour is a weird film for me given how it is considered, in certain professional circles at least, a classic, and a relatively brief, experimental one at that. Even a passing follower of this site knows my limited patience for overindulgent, dialogue-heavy dramas or self-serious sociopolitical diatribes, but Alain Resnais’ mind-numbing experience of a movie doesn’t fit into either of those categories, though it borrows from them. Perhaps my unique distaste for, dare I say, taunting of this oh so quintessential French New Wave picture, exemplifies my particularly cynical aversion to cinematic bullshit. It’s hard to define that term succinctly, to be sure, but however you spin it, Hiroshima Mon Amour fits the description like a glove.
This is not a rant like my derisions of The Walking Dead (2010-present) or The Fast and The Furious (2001-present), but an official critique; I do not consider this project a laughable dose of pop culture garbage, for what it is worth, but for all the reasons listed above — from the baffling editing to the grating dialogue to the overall muted visual style — I think every critic or film student who’s praised this movie needs to stop smoking whatever they’re smoking and watch this film again. Of all the many forgettable, overrated “trailblazers” of cinema I was forced to watch in college, this one stands out the most.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Hiroshima Mon Amour is a “classic” that’s neither memorable from a storytelling nor stylistic standpoint. Maybe it was innovative once upon a time, but its lackluster characters, bland composition, and excruciating pacing beg to differ from a modern perspective.
— However… there’s some cool black-and-white stock footage hidden away in this “innovator.”
—> NOT RECOMMENDED, mon ami!
? Casablanca (1942) is better. Yeah, I said it. Compare and contrast that shit, motherfucker.