June 23, 2009
DVD OF THE WEEK: Last Year at Marienbad
Directed by Alain Resnais
1961, 94 minutes, In French with English subtitles
Criterion I don't eat red meat, so it gives me no pleasure to cook a sacred cow like Last Year at Marienbad, an incontestably iconic and beautiful curiosity that simply hasn't held up as the masterpiece it's gushed to be. Perhaps in the context of 1961, this legendary collaboration between twin titans Alain Resnais and nouveau roman writer-turned-filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet was then the epitome of formalist, modernist European film artistry; it's a highly reactionary pooh-poohing of traditional narrative storytelling, academically detached from the confines of space, time and meaning to a meandering extreme of icy impenetrability. (It would be easy to see any single scene replayed verbatim as a spoof of Euro-pretentiousness on The Simpsons.) That's not to say it's entirely plotless, as momentum and suspense build from a loosely centralized, simple drama: a well-dressed man credited as X (Giorgio Albertazzi) pursues stunning woman A (Delphine Seyrig) inside and out of a massive baroque hotel. Did she agree to rendezvous with him a year after their last encounter, as he asserts in an elliptically repeated but varied conversation, or have they even met at all? Are her hazy recollections real, or being seductively implanted by his silver tongue?
The ambivalence is understandable.So now I'm truly flummoxed. Why does the older film seem like a musty artifact to me (a forced visit to Grandma's house!), and Jarmusch's latest such a rich, buoyant and bravely uncompromising experience? Are both just products of their eras, and in time, The Limits of Control too will feel like a faded trend, punished for its self-aware, stunted ambiguities in its own hermetically sealed prison of visual lushness? Maybe now is the time to ask the negative nellies who couldn't find use for the Jarmusch film to discuss their feelings on Marienbad. Form over function, style vs. content, rock beats scissors—I certainly don't care about broad qualifiers. However, when neither film resonates with my personal experiences by their artificiality alone, yet only one profoundly engages my worldview on beauty and art, should I be questioning the differences between the films or my instincts? Maybe Marienbad crawled into the corridors of my skull as it was intended after all.
Marienbad[The Limits of Control] blatantly toys with our expectations regarding plotline, character development, continuity, conflict, resolution—all those elements we’ve come to expect from a satisfying motion picture. Like its nameless hero, the film relentlessly pursues us with a barrage of assertions while giving us little to hold on to as convincingly true, until in the end...
Posted by ahillis at June 23, 2009 1:28 PM