Archive for Resnais

Study War No More

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by dcairns

My favourite documentaries are those by Georges Franju and Alain Resnais, and I wonder if the one influenced the other?

Resnais’ epic TOUT LES MEMOIRES DU MONDE, about the National Library of France, seen as a giant hive-mind, a paper brain, a prison for ideas, has a visual splendour that anticipates the prowling camera of MARIENBAD. The use of moving camera, broken by sudden and percussive static shots, seems to have a lot in common with Franju’s HOTEL DES INVALIDES, which I’ve just managed to see.

Both films profile a building/institution in Paris, and deploy omniscient narration and the aforementioned camera style. In addition, both have strident and aggressive scores, which makes more obvious sense in the case of Franju’s portrayal of a military museum and nursing home for disabled veterans. The discordant, martial sound of Resnais’ library is a feature students often point to with puzzlement when I share the movie with them. I think it works marvelously with the epic tone the movie takes, in which impressive statistics are piled upon outrageously enormous and heavy metaphors. It’s a film which deploys sheer bigness as an idea.

The Franju is shorter and maybe less ambitious, but still poetic and thought-provoking. As with LES SANG DES BETES, knowing that he’s got some strong stuff to come, the director seems to delight in beginning in as dull a fashion as possible, profiling the building’s exterior from every angle, and following the flights of pigeons overhead (Franju does love his birdlife). The crippled and disfigured former soldiers will come later, but they’re used sparingly and, I think, respectfully.

A choir of young voices greets us after we’ve toured the museum and church (slogan: “Heaven lies in the shadow of swords.”) “What’s that?” asks a girl as a column of schoolchildren are marched past.”

Her boyfriend replies, “It’s just the children, drilling.”

Everything is just like you

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on May 29, 2009 by dcairns


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.”

B. Kite 



Ooh, Guernica!

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 1, 2008 by dcairns


Yes, “Ooh, Guernica!” That’s what I said when I realised this was on YouTube, “The Tube Youse Uses To View”. The film of the painting of the event. By turning Picasso’s entire pre-Guernica output into a kind of strip-cartoon narrative, with Guernica as the climax, the film, using edits and sound, achieves all kinds of effects which I’m still trying to process. One revelation is the idea of Guernica’s rawness being a kind of traumatic reaction to the horrors of war, a stylistic shift in Picasso’s work triggered by all those bombs. I probably remember such a thing from my art history classes at school, but here it’s rendered viscerally.

I love Resnais’ early documentaries, those few I’ve managed to see with translation. Reading the surtitles in this one demands a small amount of mental recalibration — I find myself continually trying to read the subtitles instead, which were less helpful.

The clips seem to be extremely slow to buffer, at least on my ‘puter. Suggest clicking both of them on and then taking a bath. By the time you’re towelled off and powdered, they should be ready to go, and you will be nicely relaxed! Shadowplay — organising your viewing AND your personal hygiene.