Saturday, March 5, 2016

Dernier Cri

We finally watched Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1961), the surrealist classic scripted by Robbe-Grillet. I was expecting a slog - a lovely artistic slog - but got a comedy.

It takes place in a baroque, palatial spa somewhere in Europe. It starts with narration, a voice murmuring in French that fades in and out of audibility. Something about endless corridors, carpets, and Silence. The camera glides down these corridors, lingers on the moldings, the mirrors, the gilt, the ancient doormen. The narrator murmurs on, repeating itself, about corridors, carpets, Silence. The first humans appear. They are rigid in stylized poses, in theatrical clothing, mouthing odd poetry. I thought, this is odd, or odder than I expected, but you see, they are actors - that is, they are in a play, and the next people we see at the audience.

So, stylization and reflexivity will be major themes, along with repetition. As we are introduced to the guests at the spa, we are not introduced to them - that is, they appear, we see them, in evening dress, sitting idly or playing games, but we do not have any idea who they are. Anonymity and opaqueness will be further themes to contemplate.

As the movie develops, we find that one of the men believes that he has met one of the women (Delphine Seyrig) before - last year at this same spa (Marienbad) or possibly another. He presses her to recall, but she can't, or won't admit to it. It seems her husband (it is very much unclear) is the Gambler - a long-faced man who never smiles and has a game, involving cards, coins, or matchsticks, that he never loses.

People come and go in stuffy, overdecorated rooms and rigid, cold geometric gardens. Our hero wants the woman to come away with him, break out of the static world they are stuck in, looping, repeating over and over. But all she says is, "I'm tired. Leave me alone."

All of this is somewhat menacing, somewhat alienating, but I also found it quite silly and amusing. Watching the Gambler win his game again and again against all comers without cracking a smile got me every time. Seeing the guests in their party clothes, the women twisted into tortuously modish position (looking back over one raised shoulder as if sheltering behind it). Hearing our hero spin romantic tales for the woman, which become more fervent and engrossing as the movie goes on, and seeing her meet them with a "whatever, leave me alone" had me almost giggling. OK, it's not LOL funny, but hard to take truly seriously.

In conclusion, I wish I had watched this when I was much younger. I was a bit of a fan of Robbe-Grillet (although I thought his S&M sexual politics a bit oppressive) and I would have loved it. Also, I would have also used the whole, "Remember, we met here last year - I went up to your room..." line on every girl I met.

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