This review was originally published on Pol Culture.
There’s considerable artistry on display in Hiroshima mon amour (1959), the début feature of Alain Resnais, who directed from a script by novelist Marguerite Duras. Unfortunately, that artistry seems more intended to elicit the audience’s admiration than to serve the story--the film is mannered, overwrought, and exceedingly pretentious. But for all its flaws, it does have some extraordinary moments. A French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) has come to Hiroshima to work on a film. A few nights before she is scheduled to return to Paris, she meets and hooks up with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada). She is torn over whether or not to leave him. Their conversations veer across two topics. The first has to do with Hiroshima’s destruction during World War II. The other is the woman’s tearful recounting of her teenage affair with a young German soldier in Nevers during the Occupation. The film is at its best in its handling of the Nevers flashbacks. They’re not linear, and the gradual filling of the chronological gaps, combined with Riva’s forceful, expressive performance, powerfully suggest both the pain of those memories and the woman’s coming to terms with them. But in general the considerable virtuosity of Resnais’ staging, shot design, and editing doesn’t seem to have any purpose in mind beyond that virtuosity. Marguerite Duras’ stylized dialogue suffers from similar flaws: it calls attention to itself without having much of anywhere to go. One also wishes those were the film’s greatest weaknesses. Conceptually, the film couldn’t be more overblown; it strives to draw allegorical connections between the woman’s experiences in Nevers, the horror of Hiroshima’s destruction, and the fickleness of love and memory. Watching it, one may find oneself repeatedly thinking, Oh, come off it. But for all the intellectual hooey, its best elements--the presentation of the Nevers material, Emmanuelle Riva’s accomplished performance, the superb score by Georges Delerue and Giovanni Fusco--are things one cannot help but applaud. The black-and-white cinematography, by Sacha Vierny and Michio Takahashi, is excellent.