From the opening sequence of a lovers’ embrace shot in extreme close-up, intercut with footage of atomic bomb survivors, Alain Resnais creates an asynchronous narrative rhythm in Hiroshima mon amour. A Parisian actress (Emmanuelle Riva) filming an antiwar public service announcement in Hiroshima, has a brief, passionate affair with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada). A vague dialogue between the two nameless lovers provides a glimpse into the loss and regret of their mutually suppressed, unspoken pasts: the actress recounts unsettling images of bomb casualties, as the architect refutes her testament, insisting that she cannot know Hiroshima. After parting to their separate ways for the day, the architect later visits the actress on location, and convinces her to have a drink with him. He is drawn to her melancholy, and seeks validation for their encounter – an intangible souvenir that transcends their short-lived, impossible relationship – an emotional connection. She tells him that Nevers is the home of her youth, a place that she no longer visits, and gradually begins to reveal the events surrounding the loss of her true love, a German soldier, during the final days of occupied France. They are kindred spirits, bound together by personal shame and guilt of survival, and an overwhelming sense that they can never go home again (as in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s White. It is through their affair that the memory of her beloved is reawakened. In essence, the architect is the catalyst: the receptive soul who guides her through the painful, introspective path that leads to closure.
Alain Resnais retains the radical narrative structure of Marguerite Duras’ screenplay, yet achieves a distinctly personal tome on war, guilt, and atonement in Hiroshima mon amour. Resnais’ incorporation of unstructured, elliptical chronology creates a sense of atemporality and perpetuity. The lovers emerge after their tryst from a hotel named New Hiroshima, reinforcing the theme of irretrievable history: figuratively, the lost, old Hiroshima that the actress has never (and cannot) known. The repeated dialogue, documentary footage of victims, antiwar protest banners, and flashbacks of Nevers, provide a seamless fusion of the past coexisting with the present. Moreover, the actress’ tangential narrative, recounting her nervous breakdown, and her interchanged references to the Japanese architect as her lost German lover, further dissolve the visual linearity of the flashback sequence. This results in a film that is chronologically obscure, a reflection of the toll of personal memories – of how the past subtly, but invariably, affects us – and forever alters our behavior. Hiroshima mon amour is a highly stylized, tightly interwoven tale of lost love, a uniquely realized story of collective conscience: of regret and survival, loss and reconstruction…of nations and people.
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