Everything is just like you
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 —
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.”