Wednesday, March 27, 2013

369. L'Annee derniere a Marienbad/Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Running Time: 94 minutes
Directed By: Alain Resnais
Written By: Alain Robbe-Grillet, from the novel The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
Main Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoeff
Click here to view the trailer


Yesterday, in my "Hiroshima mon amour" review, I wrote that I'd continue to roll that film over and over in my head, until I came up with a sound opinion and answers to some of the questions that it left me with. Today, "Hiroshima mon amour" has been bumped from my memory bank to make room for "Last Year at Marienbad", an even more perplexing picture.

I'll start out by stating that the film is quite confusing. You know the type; the movie where there are dozens of different theories and possibilities for what is happening onscreen. However, despite being obscure, the film is easily followable from beginning to end. Sure, you may have a multitude of questions come "FIN", but you'll basically know what you've just seen. The film involves three characters. Most people refer to them as A (Seyrig), X (Albertazzi) and M (Pitoeff), so I will too, although I'm not really sure where people even get these one letter names from, because in the film the characters aren't referred to by ANY names or letters. A and M are a married couple, at a hotel, during a social gathering. The group consists of bourgeois French, some couples, some not. The film starts with chattering; lots of repetition (like in "Hiroshima mon amour") and the after a while, we realize that the characters are watching a play, being put on at the hotel. Later, in the lobby, during some mingling, a man (X) approaches A and asks her if she remembers him. She doesn't, but he insists that they must. He notes that they met last year, at possibly Marienbad, or possibly somewhere else. They kept running into each other last year (at a different social event) and eventually, they had an affair (which may or may not have been rape). Despite his extreme detail, X fails at convincing A they met last year. M, who has invented a card game, that requires mathematical skill, doesn't appear nearly as much as X and A. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?


Let's get the theorizing out of the way now and then I can critique the film, knowing that I've said my peace on what I think is actually happening. I will say that after watching the film last night, I did some interweb perusing and read what a lot of people had to say, both admirers and detractors of the film. I actually really don't know what was going on in the film, but here are some of my favorite theories, some of which I actually came up with myself. Yay me! I also want to note that it is the opinion of this blogger that any theory I propose, I would also propose that some or all of the film being a dream is highly likely. The film is far too abstract and dreamlike, for at least some of it not to be a dream.

Theory #1: This seems to be the most popular theory on the net and it is simply that X is trying to seduce A. Here's a guy who figures if he sprinkles in enough detail, that eventually he'll convince this woman that they really did meet a year ago and she'll go with him. Not the most exciting theory, but I'd say it's possible.

Theory #2: X is death and A was supposed to die a year ago, but convinced Death (X) to let her live for one more year. Now, he's back and wants to claim her soul, but needs (for some reason) her to remember their initial meeting before he can rightfully take her. This isn't my theory, someone else's...but I liked it.

Theory #3: This one I actually did think up on my own, but after doing a little more research today, have found this theory has actually been batted around by several other on the net. X raped A a year ago. Basically everything happened as he describes it, but when she basically brushed him off all day, he later goes to her room and forces himself on her. A repressed the memory, because it was an obviously horrible, painful one and this year, she has repressed it so much that she can no longer even recall it happening.

Theory #4: Have not seen this one anywhere, but it occurred to me while watching it. Perhaps A, X and M are all in this together and it's like this little game they play. Perhaps it's a sex thing, where M gets off on the idea of his wife being with another man - cuckoldry, I guess you'd call it. But, it can't just be a simple "Here, sleep with my wife" kind of deal, there has to be great detail before he is turned on by it. This would account for him not being a bigger part of the story, as he'd sort of just loom in the shadows and watch this little, sick roleplay unfold. In this scenario, I imagine M being in every scene, just not on camera - watching from a distance. Maybe even A doesn't know about this and it's just a little deal between X and M, where M has hired X to seduce his wife and maybe even rape her. I mean, it's unlikely, but people have some pretty out there fetishes and sexual turn-on's, so it's certainly a possibility.

Theory #5: The film is all about how different people perceive different things. Also my theory, but I don't know how reliable it is. Of course X remembers last year at Marienbad, because the meeting meant a lot to him. Maybe he's not a ladies man, so when this knockout gave him the time of day, he was floored by it. On the other hand, the meeting meant nothing to A, because...she's a knockout and men drool over her everyday. She doesn't remember X, just as there are probably countless other, prospective suitors that she can't recall. Full of holes, I know.

There's countless other theories, but I think five is plenty. I think ultimately this is one of those cop out situations, pulled on us by Resnais, where "there is no real answer, the answer is different for every viewer" and I've always really hated that explanation, as given by countless director's, of countless confusing, abstract, obscure pictures. But, I guess once in a while it's okay. The film seems to be exploring several different themes/ideas, including hypnosis, mental illness and of course, memory. Or maybe it's not exploring any of these at all, as hypnosis and mental illness could be theories all their own. The film is intentionally pieced out of order. There are certain scenes where we're hearing dialogue that should be accompanying a different scene. For example, there's one scene where A is running, holding her shoe in her hand and walking limp, barefoot over a gravel path. The dialogue that accompanies this scene has nothing to do with what we're seeing, however, later we do here the dialogue that should've accompanied this scene and learn that A broke her heel and had to walk back to the hotel, barefoot, on gravel. I usually don't like film that are intentionally confusing, but I kind of got sucked into this one's pull. It would be like hating jigsaw puzzles, but not being able to resist when all of the pieces were spread out over the kitchen table. These sort of things have a way of sucking you in, whether you like it or not.

There are so many things in the film that can be interpreted. What was the significance of the statues? the significance of the drawer full of snapshots? (this one, I have a feeling, is VERY significant, but I just can't seem to place this piece of the puzzle) and dozens of other scenes, shots and brief mentions that the film wants us to think about. Simply thrown in to throw us off? Maybe. Maybe not. I do not know.

"Last Year at Marienbad" is one of those French films that you see satirized a lot. Full of glamour and beauty, obscure shots, obscure characters, perplexing situations, some nonsense maybe. The film is very very French and very very out of left field. I have to say that I was a little intimidated to even watch it. It's one of those films like "Citizen Kane" or "Casablanca" that comes with an enormous reputation. It's a film that DEFINITELY requires a second viewing and someday, I'll certainly do that. As it is, each film in THE BOOK gets only one chance to impress me and "Marienbad" had it's one chance. I'd say that, while I didn't go totally gaga over it, it is without a doubt a must see picture. It sets itself apart from every other film in THE BOOK and certainly unique enough to turn heads.

RATING: 7/10  Whew! Well, there you have it. Like "Hiroshima mon amour", I'm not sure how it'll fair on the TOP 20 list, but we'll see. Once it's had time to simmer and stew in my mind, opinions could brighten or worsen. Time will tell...


March 27, 2013  6:11pm


  1. Hey!
    That is wonderful... Please don't be offended if I say that I expected a rather negative reaction to this one..You are not at all keen on experimental films.. and I guess, in some ways, this could come under that definition. Confused, non-linier, unexplained / inexplicable events and images, unrealistic shots, no clear storyline.

    So thank you for that great 'summing up' of various theories.. short, clear and together in a neat little list.
    I really hadn't thought of No. 3... and it is a good one.
    As I mentioned before, there has always been ,something, about this film that has captured meby some some sort of indefinable magic.. I too have no idea what to see.. i too am baffled.. but I'm less worried about it. I guess I just find it an intriguing piece of art rather than a story, and feel OK with that.
    This one stays, and has done for many years, in the mind, whilst I find it hard to recall much of 'Hiroshima mon amour'

    1. See I'm more of a story guy, rather than an art guy, so had there been more story to it, I would've probably gone the full monty and given it a '10' Thanks, as always, for the comments Ray.


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