Son of More Conversations with Ben
On the Docket: Last Year at Marienbad (France, 1961, Alain Resnais)
I have to go with the Dukes of Hazzard fans this time. I made it all the way through but not without making a lot of What's Up Tiger Lily? jokes along the way. I grasp the ground-breaking experimental nature of the film and sometimes I was impressed by the experience it was giving me. But mostly it felt like a Twilight Zone episode that couldn't kick-start itself into being. Ultimately I was disappointed that it increasingly made it possible to weed out a "plot" or at least a set of conflicting narratives from the main characters. I would have preferred it if it abandoned such potential for constructing something conventional from the repititious dialogue and tableaux. (Monica, with her theatrical background, found it fascinating for the way it is staged. Plus, the gowns are by Chanel, after all.) In other words, I found it irritating after about 15 minutes and boring after about 30. Some of the shots are wicked, though, especially the long corridors and mirrors. And there is good poetic call-and-response between the images and the language spoken. But when it is all seen and heard, the star of the show is the set. Hell, it's even in the title. The place itself is one hell of a joint. Something to see man. It is almost a character itself. Yet, I might have been just as happy watching a PBS documentary about Marienbad. I'm such an uneducated putz - never heard of it before. What is it? The German Versailles? (I read this to Monica and she took umbrage, says she was bored after 30 minutes too).
First time through, I remained completely on the outside of Marienbad, but I immediately re-watched it to see if there was more here than a solipsistic self-reflexive post-modernist exercise. And while the film remained pretty much emotionally inaccessible, I did come to admire the ideas trapped within. That these beautiful, privileged people are trapped in a life that is reflected in the art, architecture and landscape, and that this is essentially an endless loop that replays itself thanks to their inability or unwillingness to form memories carried no emotional resonance at all, but I did admire the intellectual energy behind it. The film IS beautifully shot, well-constructed and simmers with intelligence. For me, the key that kinda unlocked the film was the recurring motif of the game of sticks. This is a world where the winners are pre-ordained, and they are not going to be particularly admirable or likeable people. And they'll get to keep on winning. Forever.
There is an interesting review of the film at Senses of Cinema that contextualizes the film by returning to the source material, which is a sci-fi/magic realism piece written in the 40s. But I'm a firm believer that if you need to read the source material to "get" a film, then the film hasn't done its job. And in this case, Marienbad comes up a bit short. Still, much to admire, regardless.
Resnais HAS made two films that are much more admirable, though. Originally, he was a documentarian, and his most famous doc is Night and Fog, a half-hour nightmarish plunge into the death camps. I'll lend that one to you sometime. Puts Schindler's List to shame, and in about 1/6th the time. The other film is Hiroshima, Mon Amour, which began as a documentary detailing that city's attempts to rise from the ashes of the atomic bomb, but ended up morphing into a feature film about a doomed romance between a French actress and a Japanese man. Alas, I do not own it. But I do recommend it if you ever spot it at Pic a Flic.
I am refreshed by your reply. For all my intellectual pretentions, I did choose Ikiru over Rashomon and it was I who got behind Chaplin. You say that the film is emotionally inaccessible, has no emotional resonance at all. Call me a sap but this is a failure in art. (Indeed, it is wonderful to LOOK at. But again, I highlight the set itself in this regard.) I noticed some of the conceptual aspects you indicated, all of that dead-inside, pre-determined, bad Calvinistic going-through-the motions, trapped in a (the?) soul-less bourgeois universe. Heck, I noticed it right away and for a while I accepted the experience as a perfectly realized parallel of form and content, style and subject. For a while. And the game of sticks - like the investigation of the statue - is quite direct about all of this. Quite clear. So enough already. I did not find this irritating or offensive as a solipsistic investigation, however. I prefer to give Resnais the benefit of the doubt. This means that for me, the film really is an ''exercise,'' a kind of experimentary practice the film-maker is making on behalf of cinematic possibilities as a whole. To get at this another way, I think it is too long, much too long. It deserves to be a short, not a feature-length film. I get it, I get it. Now do something with it.
I just wanted to know about the actual place and got sucked up in the surf. Hence, the math item I already sent you and the link I provide for you now. The film lends itself to this sort of full-on academic study, that's fair. I must say, the post-modern treatment of "intertextuality" does not attract me very much but I can recognize that it has a limited validity. The present article is not too far-fetched and concludes with a bit of common (almost too common) sense. He says that by not remaining meaningfully attached (how exactly?) to the original literary work, the film falls into a certain position. I don't know if this argument is correct but I do agree that the film falls into the position ascribed to it by the argument; i.e.: "Without Morel, Marienbad is mostly an exercise in formalism" and "Without The Invention of Morel, Marienbad is merely surreal art for art's sake.'' Anyway, take a look if you will. http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/00/10/marienbad.html
Remember in my first post I mentioned a senses of cinema article I once read about the film which talked about the source material, a sci-fi/magic realism piece? This is the same article you've just linked to. Heh. It all pretty much confirms our suspicions that this is pretty much limited to being an intellectual exercise which exists solely in the hermetically sealed world of academia, never to breathe the plebian air. Of course, I'm something of a sucker for intellectual exercises, so I feel the film has value, particularly considering how tidily it marries form and function.
I wonder if it is possible to give a film involving such hollow bourgeois creatures heart? And if so, if it would detract from Resnais' purpose, which is to expose these character's vapidity?
Well, when you used those five dollar words like "solipsism" and then I saw them in the article...
The game of nim appearing in Alain Resnais' film Last Year at Marienbad (L'année dernière à Marienbad, 1961). In Marienbad, two players alternately draw counters from one of four nim-heaps formed by 1, 3, 5 and 7 counters. The player making the last move is the loser. Since the nim-value of this game is zero, the second player can always win, which makes Marienbad a distinctly unfair game.
SEE ALSO: Fair Game, Nim, Nim-Heap, Nim-Value, Unfair Game. [Pages Linking Here]
This entry contributed by Margherita Barile
Eveilleau, T. "Le jeu de Marienbad." http://perso.wanadoo.fr/therese.eveilleau/pages/jeux_mat/indexF.htm.
CITE THIS AS:
Eric W. Weisstein et al. "Marienbad." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource. http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Marienbad.html
When we spoke briefly earlier today, you told me that you couldn't stop thinking about the movie, I assume there were more reasons that this game. What's making the film so sticky for you? For me, it is the way that the airless quality of the perfection of the geometry of the architecture, landscape and costumes matches the emotional vacuum of the characters that gives the film reverberance.
Did I say I couldn't stop "thinking" about the film? If I did, I was imprecise with my language and I hope that by being precise with my language now, I will answer your question. I can't stop SEEING the film. Because it did not make me feel, I do not know what to think. I cannot get beyond perception to conception.
Why do I always seem to cede you the final word? Yes, Marienbad is cold and distant. But interesting enough on a purely sensual level to keep me involved.