I’ll preface this by saying that I did not grasp everything there is to grasp in this movie, and not being a huge history-buff may have slightly diluted my understanding of the film, but one thing is absolutely certain: Hiroshima Mon Amour is a stunning piece of visual, “filmic” (is this a word?) art. This movie is, in every sense, pure cinema and is a treat to behold.
Hiroshima Mon Amour comes to us from the fabulous movement the French New-wave (a movement which brought us the likes of Godard and Truffaut), and, as is typical with other new-wave films, is a fresh approach to the cinematic form of storytelling and provides an interesting view of its events.
Very quick, a lesson on the French New-wave: there were two groups the “left bank” filmmakers and the “right bank” filmmakers. The right bankers were the Jean-Luc Godards, while the left bankers were filmmakers like Agnes Varda, Chris Marker, and the director of Hiroshima, Alain Resnais. Wikipedia has the following to say: the left bankers “were older and less movie-crazed” and “the two groups, however, were not in opposition.” I think it’s fair to say that they were simply two generations, each trying new things with the medium of film, but both making different kinds of films.
Now that the history lesson is out of the way, let’s continue.
Hiroshima Mon Amour is the story of a French actress who has a short-lived affair with a Japanese architect. Both are happily married, and yet they fall into each other’s arms by happenstance. Their affair is brief and problematic. No matter how much they attest to loving one another they are ultimately driven apart by their issues with the past. The main region of iconography from the film is, of course, the bombing of Hiroshima which ended WWII.
The opening segments of the film feature the two embracing with only brief shots of their bare backs and arms visible, clawing around, covered in a thick layer of ash. This of course brings us to an interesting discussion of literal and figurative imagery in films. They are, of course, not literally rolling around in the ashes of the nuclear bombing, but quite figuratively they are covered by it throughout the rest of the film. I’m not sure that I’m ready to call it full out metaphor, but it certainly has such an aspect in regards to how the bombing relates to their relationship.
There is also much newsreel footage of actual survivors of the bombing, much of it extremely difficult to look at, and all of it poetic in its visual pace and feel. Speaking of a poetic nature, by the way, the film’s dialogue (subtitled from the original French and Japanese) never feels realistic and instead it always seems the characters are speaking in poetic verse. That isn’t to say their dialogue rhymes, but that it sort of “floats” and “lilts” in its meter.
Then comes the film’s visual beauty, which is rendered in stunning black and white photography, with dreamy visuals and close-ups, and an interesting flashback portion which is inter-cut with the film’s main narrative. It is during this portion that we are treated to one of my favorite visual moments in this whole movie. The woman, Elle, has her head shaved as a punishment, and in this moment she is made a martyr after the image of Maria Falconetti in the film The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, dir. Carl Th. Dreyer). This particular moment is extremely impacting on the audience and is shown with very little flare: the images are allowed to speak for themselves and reveal interesting background information regarding the character.
If Hiroshima Mon Amour isn’t one of my favorite movies, it’s likely because I just haven’t quite gotten my head around all of it yet. I’m very excited to revisit it, however, and will probably pick up the blu-ray from the Criterion Collection the next time they go on sale. This is a visually powerful film, and a testament to the fact that the storytelling, art, and poetry of film is in its visual content.