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Hiroshima mon amour (1959)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

A highly referential, symbolic love affair forms the core Alain Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour, set against the backdrop of the title city. The opening shots of naked, interlocked bodies (although only the shoulders are visible) establish a persistent thread of understated eroticism. Gradually the lovers become covered by a fine coat of what looks like snow, whereas it is actually radioactive dust blown from the nuclear holocaust. In the throes of sexual excitement, Elle (Emmanuele Riva) begins a discourse on her Hiroshima fixation. All her partner Lui (Eiji Okuda) can do is refute her claims of having seen the bomb, effectively negating her past.

Thus an underlying structure, which depends on contrasts, is revealed beneath the simple two-day love story. They met, she a French film actress and he a Japanese architect, by chance and immediately felt an attraction between them, which could only be satisfied carnally. Their overwhelming passion and depth of feeling for one another is a situation which occurs only infrequently, when two individuals can mesh into a unified whole. However, they are both happily married and understand that the romance is doomed. Strangely and significantly, Elle has been in much the same situation before, with a German soldier (Bernard Fresson), providing a striking parallel with the present.

The relating of Elle's first love to Lui, and the consequences of it, highlights only a single contrast, that of past and present. Hiroshima mon amour seeks to be more philosophical than this though, discovering parallels between joy/despair and society/individual to name two. This analysis of the subtext opens the film to a much wider level of interpretation, on everything from the futility of conflict to whether it is best to realise true desire for an instant, rather than never having been presented with the temptation in the first place.

The overall tone of Hiroshima mon amour is one of torture and exorcism, the painful knowledge that eventually all of these shared moments will be forgotten. Then, with the dissipation of memory, oblivion of our very souls and substance is inevitable in those who knew us. This is a terrifically depressing thought but there are at least a few moments of illumination in the darkness. Their love, free from spousal recrimination, is fulfilling and unweighed by ulterior motives - a meeting of equals. The look on their faces as they share a private joke is to be treasured, yet this pleasure is fleeting.

The transitory nature of existence is forcefully presented by inter-cutting the early scenes with post-bombing stills and quasi-realistic newsreel footage. A powerful combination of sound and image for sure, although the general effect is nebulous, opaque and inscrutable. It's impossible to attain a concrete feel for the characters because that's the aim of Hiroshima mon amour. Nothing is easy when metaphors and emotional associations are involved.

An alternative viewpoint is that this profound and disturbing piece of work is no more meaningful than a blank piece of paper - that the whole construct is mere pseudo-intellectual posturing, obscure because it contains nothing of substance. The beauty is that Hiroshima mon amour can take these accusations of pretentiousness as easily as unbounded compliments because it is, and always will be, a film which can only be judged personally.


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