Last Year At Marienbad Review

Nothing is as it seems in this 1961 classic from Left Bank director Alain Resnais. Set in an ornate Baroque country retreat it merges present and past to indiscernible effect, and exposes undercurrents of memory and imagined pasts. Emerging in the years after the Second World War and in line with Resnais’ other works, such as Hiroshima Mon Amour, which similarly deals with memory and the psychological imprint of loss; this is cinema thick with technique and sumptuous detail if thin on narrative cohesion due its deliberate opaqueness.

It portrays X’s (Giorgio Albertazzi) feverish attempts to convince A (Delphine Seyrig) of a passionate affair that might or might not have happened a year ago in a place that may or may not have been the eponymous mansion. All the while sinister and calculating M (Sacha Pitoeff) looks on as A’s companion and maybe husband. The uncertainty of the story is matched by that of A’s mind and memories, who if at first laughs away X’s frivolities later becomes consumed by his beguiling tales of their intimate time together.

Taken on narrative alone it’s sometimes disorientating, often inscrutable and even a little soulless at times with the premise of X pursuing A while M looks on in practice feeling it could be as cold and mathematical on film as it looks on paper. But there’s something undeniably intriguing about the juxtaposition of its smoke and mirrors story with its perfectly kept ornate setting. And on reflection it’s as enticing as X’s story is to A and just as likely to have you going back for seconds, even if you don’t quite remember or understand the first time it happened.

Taking a radical departure from contemporary French New Wave narrative consensus Last Year At Marienbad conveys the intricacies of thought and the cavernous depths of memory. Now cited as a key film in cinematic modernism, as well as a landmark of post-war French cinema, it serves as the cornerstone for the BFI’s ‘Curiouser and Curiouser: The Films of Alain Resnais Season’ and Last Year At Marienbad is a true embodiment of that title. It’s a film that has eluded categorisation and consensus and, as a result, is one that is still today as unmissable as it was in 1961 when it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.