Rendez-vous 2014: Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

by Ann Jackson on 30/04/2014


Hiroshima Mon Amour caused a mighty stir when it was first seen in 1959 at Cannes. Written by a woman (Marguerite Duras), it was also narrated by a woman (Emmanuelle Riva) who was the main character, it included flashbacks to clarify the story and had a non-linear storyline. There was also a significant change in the approach to film music: a clashing and discordant soundtrack was used, rather than orchestral overlay. Director Alain Resnais had made his first, brilliant contribution to French New Wave Cinema.

Hiroshima Mon Amour mixes in documentary with the story of a short encounter between a French actress, Elle, in Hiroshima who is due to go home, after concluding acting in a film about peace based on the tragedy of Hiroshima, and a Japanese man she wakes up with in her hotel room. We follow them making love and her being questioned about her past as the man both pursues and seeks to understand her. She talks about the bombing of Hiroshima, that she has visited the museum, and we see the effects of the A-bomb; the pain, the hunger and the anger of the people. It becomes clear that she has a very tragic past; is herself a victim of the war in France, has suffered at the hands of her country and the pain haunts her. Hiroshima is recovering, but she is still in trauma: with this contrast we are shown that war kills in many ways. Her stay in Hiroshima somehow releases her story and allows her to speak, at last, to the lover she will soon leave.

The film was noteworthy in many ways. Those involved with its production and others in the industry expected that the changes begun here would take time to filter through but that Cinema would be transformed by Hiroshima Mon Amour, and indeed these changes have become part of the norm.  It also tackled issues which at the time were taboo, the largest issue being that the Allies in World War II were brutal too. In 1959 nothing was being said about Europe or Japan, how the war ended and what happened to the countries involved, and films made after this one which tried to explore these issues further found it hard to get support or funding in France. (‘The Sorrow and the Pity’, was funded by the BBC) In fact, Hiroshima Mon Amour was excluded from the award selection at Cannes so as not to upset the US. The peace movement had yet to materialise.

This is a great film with a great performance from Emmanuelle Riva. It gives us a view from the other side, which  today may still be a surprise. We really see Hiroshima and witness its survival. I, for one, was struck by the parallels between the Nazi extermination of the Jews and their documentation of what they did (Resnais covered this subject in his 1955 documentary Nuit Et Brouillard), and the American bombing of Hiroshima and the almost unwatchable clinical film they made of the people affected; clips of which are used as the documentary part of the film. Hiroshima Mon Amour is a stark and moving account of that conflicted era and a fitting tribute to the late Alain Resnais’ film-making abilities.

Ann has awarded Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) four Torches of Truth

4 torches

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