Everything is just like you

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My friend B. Kite, the Manhattan mahatma, is author of a splendid piece in Masters of Cinema’s DVD of Alain Resnais’s MURIEL, a copy of which should rest on everybody’s shelf.

Bigger than HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR! More recent than LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD! More decisive than SMOKING/NO SMOKING!

This brief extract gives you a flavour of the depths Kite seeks to chart, braving strong currents of received opinion and inky, obscuring clouds of ignorance. On the ocean floor lies the city of Boulogne, lost to time but now yielding her secrets to the submariner’s torch…

Wait, that’s Atlantis. There I go, thinking about Atlantis when I should be thinking about Boulogne. I’m always getting those two mixed up. Still –

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Early on in Resnais’ first two features, [the] recording eye descends into a character in the film, and that character becomes in effect the dominant consciousness of the proceedings. At least that’s one way of interpreting the stark shift in Hiroshima, Mon Amour between the opening 15 minute meditation on the bomb and a distant observer’s capacity for understanding catastrophe, very much in the idiom of Night and Fog but already interspersed with a foreign substance in the recurring still lives of the lovers’ limbs, and the beginning of its story. That story belongs to the figure the script designates “She” – the film follows the movement of her thought and associations and raises the possibility that her Japanese lover (“He”) is wholly a projection of her desire, bearing, as he does, so few distinctive qualities beyond a consuming fascination with the melodrama she compulsively recounts. In Marienbad, the incorporation is much more brisk, taking only a handful of shots to link the flowing catalogues of ceilings and doorways, those characteristic threading motions seen most notably in Toute la memoire du monde, to the incantatory inventory of “X” (“Again I walk these halls, these corridors…”).

 

Both of these films are grounded in the solipsism of controlling figures, and both become exercises in perspective and point of view. What to make, then, of the aggressive flurry of brief, object-dominated shots that throw us piecemeal into the fragmented world of Resnais’ third feature, Muriel? Here, the thing-focus is unleashed and insistent: already the quick pan along the circuit of a cigarette lifted to lips and lowered seems to announce that for this observing eye, objects are at least as important as the characters that interact with them. In this strange reversal of hierarchies, it becomes difficult to say whether the object or the actor more truly merits the status of “prop.”


B. Kite 

 

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11 Responses to “Everything is just like you”

  1. Chris B Says:

    Comrade K also has a piece in the forthcoming MoC TOKYO SONATA DVD/Blu-ray.

    I’ve not seen MURIEL yet so I guess this ties in nicely.

  2. Muriel is Resnias’ masterpeice. It was a massive flop. Made in 1963 he did not make another feature until La Guerre est Finie in 1966. Many of the ideas of his recent “filmed theater ” films (particularly Melo ) have their roots in Muriel

  3. Arthur S. Says:

    MURIEL,ou le Temps d’un Retour(full title is all important) is one of the Great French films, that is a Great Film About France, French society. It’s about people being haunted by a past to the extent they are blinded by the changes happening before their eyes. Much like France in the late 50s-early60s period.

    That’s a Resnais theme which he pursued in his shorts but which he radically expanded here, in that here the past is evoked by the fact that the present is indifferent to it. He doesn’t need to use flashbacks like in HIROSHIMA or MARIENBAD, here the characters live out their own flashback more or less but even then the effect is just as powerful. Especially in that scene where he talks about what he did to Muriel voicing over amateur footage he shot in Algeria. Really shocking stuff. I wonder if any other film at that time touched on Algeria like that. Another French film that is.

  4. Chris, you will love Muriel — as I’m sure you suspect.

    I’ve yet to see Le Joli Mai myself — too much of Marker’s work is scattered and hard to see. A retrospective and a set of DVDs would be nice.

  5. Funny, I was just thinking about Muriel yesterday, and wondering if I should buy the MoC dvd. I already have a copy of the film, but am interested in the new print and essays. Muriel is one of my favourite films. I love the way it deals with the vagaries of memory and time, and how living too much in the past can blight the possibiltiy of happiness in the present. And what a brilliant ending.
    I agree with B Kite about the powerful impact of objects in the film. When I watch Muriel, I feel I am watching a more viewer-friendly version of Dreyer’s Gertrud. I wonder if Dreyer was influenced by the Resnais film.
    Muriel also has elements in common with Marker’s La Jetée, another of my favourites.

  6. Arthur S. Says:

    I have never seen Le Joli Mai either. I expect MURIEL to be fairly unique as far as narrative features go in dealing with that subject matter.

  7. Arthur S. Says:

    GERTRUD I believe was shot before MURIEL(but released afterwards) but even then I see little relation between both films. GERTRUD’s lyrical minimalism is opposed to Resnais’ almost Hitchcock-on-Acid editing patterns. The opening scene, especially that cut of Delphine Seyrig elegantly taking a draft from the cigarette, feels like it could be nicked from the cutting room floor of say, MARNIE(with which MURIEL has greater relation and Hitchcock being a fan of Resnais was perhaps aware of that).

    The other difference is that in GERTRUD, the crux, the essence of the film is the stoicism of the Nina Pens Rhode character, her performance. Whereas MURIEL is an ensemble film with no central figure, and Helene Aughain is incapable of attaining the tragic profundity that Gertrud attains in the end of the Dreyer film.

  8. Gertrud is all about idealism. None of the characters in Muriel have any ideals.

  9. Both Muriel and Gertrud have a lot to say about tiime, memory and love.

  10. That’s certainly true. Resnais always stresses imagination over memory when he discusses his work — so the characters in Muriel are dealing with self-created imaginary memories rather than real contact with the past.

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