Monday, October 20, 2008

Last Year at Marienbad

Watching Last Year at Marienbad is like trying to figure out how to win the game that M always wins. Alain Resnais’s film takes away linear storytelling, conventional editing, character names, and our sense of fictional/reality in the world of the film. As frustrating as it is to watch and keep track of everything, I cannot stop playing the game. I cannot stop myself from trying to decipher the memory from the reality. Nor can I stop myself from appreciating the way Resnais offers the variety of ways of showing memory.

Sometimes we remember events in bright spurts like in the bar scene as A “remembers” a moment that has been whitewashed in her mind. Even though flashing scenes as a person suddenly remembers is a convention of modern filmmaking, the high contrast between the black “real” world and the white “memory” world feels innovative. But sometimes we remember by repetition. As Resnais illustrates in the scene in which X tells A when they were in the bedroom yet showing them outside, if we repeatedly remember the wrong thing, then we have created a false memory that does not reflect what truly happened. Sometimes we recall moments in our lives as a performance as the opening scene demonstrates. People play their roles in our lives though sometimes we do not accurately remember what their roles were in reality. M starts off as a random hotel guest but as the film progresses he becomes A’s husband.

So what really happened to X and A? Are they even real people or a figment of someone's imagination? Even trying to watch the film a second time, I did not win. Resnais always wins by showing us how we play with our own minds to remember what we want to remember.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Girl Cut in Two

What made Claude Chabrol’s latest film, A Girl Cut in Two, interesting for me is the number of references to his earlier work, Les Cousins. The names of the two male characters are Paul and Charles. Paul in A Girl Cut in Two has Les Cousins’s Paul’s reckless decadence but has Les Cousins’s Charles’s melodramatic sense of romance. Paul immediately falls in love with Gabrielle but unlike Les Cousins’s Charles, he easily (and sometimes frighteningly) expresses his feelings for her. Charles in A Girl Cut in Two has Les Cousins’s Paul’s ambivalent attitude toward his romantic partners. Like Charles in Les Cousins, Charles in this film dies from a gunshot from Paul. In both films we see Paul pointing the empty gun at someone. In Les Cousins, Paul jokingly aims the gun at Charles to wake him up from his sleep. In A Girl Cut in Two, Paul aims the gun at Gabrielle to scare her into forgetting Charles. These foreshadowing scenes fit the nature of both Charles’s death. In Les Cousins, Paul, unaware that Charles had loaded the gun with a single bullet, accidentally kills Charles while imitating a guest shooting the gun. In A Girl Cut in Two, Paul shoots Charles in the middle of a charity banquet telling everyone that Charles corrupted his wife. The difference between Paul and Charles in Les Cousins and Paul and Charles in A Girl Cut in Two is that the Les Cousins pair has a clear good and bad person. While Chabrol mocks Charles’s country ways, we know that we are supposed to see him as a good person. The A Girl Cut in Two pair lacks that distinction. Both are depicted as flawed people who are accepted for their flaws.

The women in both films are convinced by the men to be more sexually liberal. In Les Cousins, Florence decides that she wants to be with Charles living the idyllic domestic life. However, Paul and Clovis talk her out of it claiming that Charles could never sexually satisfy her the way Paul could. In A Girl Cut in Two, Charles convinces Gabrielle to sleep with his friends while he watches. Oddly, we do not see these scenes in A Girl Cut in Two yet we get them in Les Cousins. In Les Cousins, we see the overhead shot of Florence sitting in a chair as Paul and Clovis circle around her as they tell her that she could never be Charles’s ideal domesticated woman. We see Clovis pushing Paul onto Florence saying “You like his touch” and watching them kiss. In A Girl Cut in Two, we only see them go into the club and up the stairs. Charles introduces Gabrielle to his friends but does not explicitly state why they are there. We only learn about their deal through the dialogue between Gabrielle and Paul.

So why cut those scenes in this film and not in Les Cousins? I can imagine Gabrielle’s first experience at the club to be shot similarly to that scene in Les Cousins with Charles standing in for Clovis and his friend standing in for Paul. Perhaps a scene like that would have made identifying Gabrielle as an innocent victim too easy. In Les Cousins, Florence seems to have the same sexually ambivalent attitude as Paul and Clovis thus allowing Chabrol to maintain the distance between the characters and the viewer. If that scene played out in A Girl Cut in Two, we would see her complicity as a result of Charles’s pressure. With Florence, we would think that she would have slept with Paul anyway. By leaving those scenes out of A Girl Cut in Two, we could entertain the idea that Gabrielle might be more sexually liberal than she appeared.

Is A Girl Cut in Two supposed to be the modern Les Cousins? If it is, then Chabrol might be saying with this film, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hiroshima Mon Amour

In watching Alain Resnais's Hiroshima, Mon Amour in class, I could not help trying to remember my first viewing experience with it. I had rented it at’s suggestion because I own Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, a film about an affair between two married people in 1960s Hong Kong. I remember that Hiroshima, Mon Amour is the story of a French woman and a Japanese man having a brief affair in Hiroshima, Japan. I also remember the French woman telling the Japanese man about her affair with a German soldier. But I forgot the sudden, sharp emotional outbursts by the French woman as she starts to juxtapose the Japanese man with her deceased German lover. My forgetting of her outbursts made that part of the film feel like my first time seeing it allowing me to have the visceral reaction of wanting to give her a Xanax or Prozac. If I had remembered her outbursts, I might have felt a little more sympathetic. She is recalling a personal traumatic experience for the first time. She forgot how truly traumatic it was to lose her German lover and to suffer the consequences. The fact that Germany and Japan were allies in World War II obviously facilitated the juxtaposition of the two men. In her forgetting the trauma, she could only react with abrupt emotions because it feels like she is experiencing the trauma for the first time.

As I mentioned before, I saw this film because I love In the Mood for Love but Hiroshima, Mon Amour seems more like Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 in its treatment of place and the past. In 2046, Chow Mo-wan is pre-occupied by the memory of his past affair with Su Li-zhen. 2046 is Chow’s Nevers because it is the hotel room number where they would meet to write a martial arts novel. Unlike the French woman, Chow revisits the past often through his novels in which his main character goes to a place called 2046 to recover the past. As Hiroshima is a place of a significant historical event, 2046 is also the last year that Hong Kong will be free of China’s interference in their economy and politics. In Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Hiroshima serves as a background to highlight consequences of remembering and forgetting trauma. In 2046, the year serves as a subtext for inability to move on as Chow cannot move on from his past affair despite having multiple lovers. Also, Chow has a similar scene in which he recounts his affair to someone. In his case, the woman has the same name, so he tries to recreate the feelings he had for Su with this woman. In comparing the two films, I can see how influential Hiroshima, Mon Amour is in its portrayal of remembering.