To appreciate the fuss and fury that greeted Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour on its first appearance, it’s necessary to get into a kind of 1959 mindset. In particular, the 1959 mindset of the Cahiers du Cinema group, who were looking for new type of film. They found it with Resnais’ movie, which virtually defined the French New Wave.
Though the New Wave — much like the British Invasion style that followed it — didn’t so much invent a cinematic language as it co-opted bits and pieces from everyone from Melies to Michael Powell, it was a unique mix of styles filtered into a style of its own (and subsequently assimilated into mainstream film language). It felt new, fresh — and, yes, revolutionary.
And it’s pretty much all here in this one film: the deceptively simple story of a brief encounter between a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) on location in Hiroshima and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada). And it all — as technique — still seems reasonably fresh, if no longer startlingly so.
Unfortunately, Hiroshima is also the quintessential French art film, with everything that implies, meaning that every parody of pretentious French cinema (you know: where two characters say “oui” and “non” and nothing else for minutes on end) also stems from this movie. As a result, the film’s drama constantly threatens to elicit laughs instead of tears, and so requires a little patience. But it’s worth the effort. There are haunting images here amidst the pretense.
As a milestone of film, Hiroshima, Mon Amour cannot be overestimated.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke