A world-weary, career resistance operative and Spanish exile using the alias Diego Mora (Yves Montand) arrives at a customs checkpoint on the French-Spanish border on a quiet Easter Sunday en route to an unspecified assignment and begins to rehearse his cover story with the driver, a bookstore owner and revolution sympathizer named Jude (Dominique Rozan). A quick series of images depicting Diego in (necessarily) inconstant and varying stages of transit soon reveals that it is a trip that he has performed often, a familiarly evasive routine that seems banal and predictable, even as he is temporarily detained by the authorities on an apparently targeted traffic stop of similar vehicles. Brought in for an interview with the on-duty customs inspector (Michel Piccoli), the unfazed Diego – carrying the passport of a man named Sallanches whose biographical information he has exhaustively studied but has never personally met – provides meticulous details to his assumed identity in an impromptu, but well-orchestrated deception that is conveniently corroborated by a subsequent telephone call to the Sallanches’ apartment that confirms the information and results in his release. Concerned over the implications of the increased border security to their underground network operations, Diego attempts to warn a fellow operative of the risk, but soon finds that his seemingly impeccable attention to factual detail has failed him after arriving at an incorrect address – a mistake that proves to be the latest manifestation of Diego’s flagging acuity and uncertainty towards his life’s direction. As he seeks solace away from the emotional demands of his devoted mistress, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) by undertaking extended duration covert assignments and embarking on a meaningless affair with Sollanches’ activist daughter Nadine (Geneviève Bujold), Diego struggles with his own personal and ideological disillusionment through the empty rituals of his increasingly consuming and interminable vocation as his comrades prepare for an imminent mass strike across the border.
Scripted by Spanish novelist, Franco-era political exile, resistance fighter, and Buchenwald concentration camp survivor Jorge Semprún, La Guerre est finie is an intricately fluid and structurally complex, but elegantly facile and thoughtful exposition on alienation, intimacy, and radicalism. Alain Resnais breaks conventional narrative linearity by interweaving extensive flash-forward and flashback episodes into the film’s elliptical framework to create a pervasive atemporality and chronological ambiguity that reflects Diego’s sense of displacement and existential crisis. Resnais further modulates the film’s tempo by incorporating rapidly edited montages that visually convey the internal cognitive functions of memory, sentiment, and perception: the alternating images of four young women to represent Nadine that conveys Diego’s deductive thought process on the likely appearance of his assumed identity’s daughter; the intercutting series of anonymous apartment buildings and similarly decorated address plaques that illustrates his confusion on the actual residence of Madame Lopez (Marie Mergey); the fragmented shots of Diego and Nadine’s coupling that contrast with the slow paced, lingering medium shots of Marianne that innately reflects the diametrical nature of Diego’s relationships – the encounters with Nadine seem physical, confronting, and immediate while those with Marianne appear intimate, nurturing, and sensual. (Note Resnais’ allusive device of presenting mundane daily rituals through achronological narrative sequencing that is further expounded in his subsequent film, Je t’aime, Je t’aime). Eschewing the intrigue and exoticism of the film’s intrinsically political subtext, Resnais creates a sublime and emotionally lucid cautionary portrait of the consequence of emotional ambivalence, violent revolution, and the futile repetition of unlearned history.
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