A Different Kind of Love: Hiroshima Mon Amour
Alain Resnais is another recognizable name from the French New Wave, although not one that carries the attention of François Truffaut or Jean-Luc Godard. If there was one film that always stood out for myself as his best feature, it would be none other than his debut narrative Hiroshima Mon Amour. Never have I seen a film that blends the effects of trauma within a romance story that could have been easily been made to feel so ordinary, but subverts the possibilities it could have carried in order to become much more. Resnais had a style that was unlike many other filmmakers of the French New Wave, for rather than moving along with the quick pacing defining a filmmaker like Jean-Luc Godard, Resnais always played upon a more contemplative state.
The film opens with an image of what appears to be a couple caressing one another amidst ashes, but soon it cuts to images of Hiroshima with a voiceover repeating, “You saw nothing in Hiroshima.” As we look at these images, it hints only at a change in climate, one in a sense that as time goes by we only want to suppress memories that we do not want to keep, although they remain a permanent part of our own character. It comes from the repetition, “You saw nothing in Hiroshima,” where we have an already traumatized perspective haunted by a tragedy that shook his own life a different direction.
Afterwards, the film shows us an actress going by the name Elle, played by Emmanuelle Riva. She is making an anti-war film in Hiroshima and amidst shooting she runs into a married Japanese architect named Lui. The two of them eventually begin an affair with one another, but as they spend more time together their perspectives on the effects that the war has left behind upon people mesh together in order to create this haunting portrait of memory that Alain Resnais shows us in Hiroshima Mon Amour. It’s a common motif for Resnais to play upon this concept, but what makes Hiroshima Mon Amour so haunting is the manner to which it is utilized here. These moments are what make Alain Resnais’s best films as powerful as they are, no matter what the subject be, whether it be so open-ended like Last Year at Marienbad or political in nature.
The budding romance between Elle and Lui is only used as an outer layer for Alain Resnais to unleash what will soon grow to become his greatest asset when keeping Hiroshima Mon Amour in movement — but it also hints at greater tragedy. We never know much about Lui other than the fact that he is married, although given how he represents a Japanese perspective on the war, a certain authenticity arises for what sort of tragedy is formed at hand. He shows us how a Japanese perspective understood the war up front through Lui’s memories and how an outsider would have seen it based on what has already been heard. What exactly comes out as a result of these two perspectives coming to form one?
In images of what appear to be erotica under ashes as shown from the opening, the music cues only hint at a feeling of shame. There’s a shame that comes out from how people tend to hide what they know is true because it is only a feeling that is suppressed, and how through romance they believe they can so easily find themselves forgetting what has troubled them this whole time. Marguerite Duras’s beautiful screenplay captures this feeling so perfectly through repetition, giving a clear feeling of trauma. As the repetition captures such a feeling, what is only set to come is an intense feeling of guilt in regards to where it has brought the human condition towards. The structure of Hiroshima Mon Amour does not stick with a linear format, instead it plays like memories coming back to oneself through, its use of flashbacks within the narrative, but the shame allows for a reflective nature through and through. Reflecting upon what humanity has come to, and what is the final outcome.
Hiroshima Mon Amour subverts romance into one of the most haunting documentations of the effects of war to be put on film. It does not need imagery of the war directly, but rather it reflects upon how it has devastated people who were directly involved, or outsiders. It blends two perspectives of what was seen and gone, in order to create this concoction of suppressed memories that are unleashed on humanity, creating the incredible guilt that its characters feel. “You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing,” says a Japanese voice, followed with an “I saw everything,” from Emmanuelle Riva’s voice. Is there a clear understanding in regards to what it has brought upon oneself? The greatest testament it makes to the screen is the power of memory and what it brings to one’s state of mind.