Hiroshima Mon Amour
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) begins like a documentary. Just after the opening credits, the viewer is taken along on a crisp montage consisting of a mixture of images depicting the bomb’s grisly aftermath, as well as shots of the various mechanisms-monuments and museums-the city relies on to remember the event. Patched over director Alain Resnais’ camera is a conversation between the films two main characters-French actress Elle (Emmanuelle Riva), and Japanese Architect Lui (Eiji Okada). Though, their tones are soft and friendly, the pair are disagreeing on a major point. “I saw everything [in Hiroshima]” claims Elle, describing Resnais’ scenes of vacant hospital patients, enraged protesters, and eerie museum exhibits. “You saw nothing in Hiroshima” counters Lui-offering no evidence for his assertion, but repeating it adamantly.
This discussion over who remembers correctly serves nicely to set up one of Resnais’ main purposes in the film- to consider how memory functions in our lives. In particular he seems interested in how recollections ebb and flow, for a time slipping into the depths of our subconscious- only to be retrieved when least expected in an experience that is quite jarring for the individual, but also those surrounding them.
Resnais’ use of Hiroshima’s plot to develop this question is a classic example an “essay film”- a concept developed by him and other members of the 1960’s French New Wave. Their idea was to use the Cinema as a means of argument, a medium for elaborating on cataclysmic clashes of culture that were occurring during their time.
And in the case of Hiroshima, these conflicts are present as its characters-both of whom are married- navigate their way through a passionate romance that takes place in a Hiroshima that has been reborn into a bustling cluster of cabaret’s and coffee joints. During this exchange the two characters find themselves separated in terms of sex, race, nationality, and profession. But to Resnais’ credit, these divisions do not dominate the film. Instead, he quietly weaves them into his broader concerns about memory, which compels the viewer to think about the films as a whole, instead of being distracted by awkward points of tension. This type of seamlessness really makes the film a real treat.