Category: classic film

classic film film diary general discussion

Film Diary: Hiroshima Mon Amour

“Listen to me. I know something else. It will begin all over again. Two hundred thousand dead. Eighty thousand wounded. In nine seconds. These figures are official. It will begin all over again. It will be ten thousand degrees on the earth. Ten thousand suns, they will say. The asphalt will burn. Chaos will prevail. A whole city will be raised from the earth and fall back in ashes….”

When I found out Cinema Fanatic and Japan Cinema were collaborating on a blog-a-thon in effort to raise relief money for the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I knew I had to participate.

Admittedly, my expertise in Japanese cinema is lacking, and I can only think of a handful of titles that I’ve seen off the top of my head. You know, the standard Ozu, Kurosawa and Miyazaki films, along with a few other popular imports that could easily be seen in a film class or on the shelf at Blockbuster. So, I decided I would take a different route and re-visit a classic French-Japanese film set in Japan. Hiroshima Mon Amour is French auteur Alain Resnais’ exploration of memory and trauma in the second world war. In a way, it can be seen as a sort of companion piece to his pseudo-art-documentary about the Holocaust, Night and Fog, but more on the artsy side and less focused on documenting one specific event.

The story is told in a non-linear style and revolves around a 36 hour love affair between a French actress (Emmenuelle Riva) making a film in Hiroshima and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) whose family was killed when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city in 1945, effectively ending the war. As the lovers (mostly She) discuss where they were (or where they think they were and are in the present) when the bomb fell and the terrible devastation it brought upon the city, the fictional narrative is inter-cut with brief clips of documentary footage showing mutilated bodies, women’s hair falling out due to radiation, and the physical scars (to say nothing of the mental ones) that the citizens of Hiroshima would carry for the rest of their lives. We later learn that She had suffered similar humiliation and degradation back in her hometown of Nevers, France, when she fell in love with a German soldier. As a punishment, her hair was cut off and she was forced to spend months living in the cellar at her parents’ home after her lover is assassinated and she is discovered with his body. Now in the present, She struggles to find meaning and longevity in her relationships with men, and both try to reconcile the anxieties and traumas of the past.

Kent Jones writes in his essay Hiroshima mon amour: Time Indefinite:

Perhaps it’s not so surprising that Hiroshima mon amour began not as a fiction, but as a documentary. [Anatole] Dauman had successfully pitched the idea of a project about the bomb and its impact to Daiei Studios, and it was to be the first Japanese-French co-production. The title would be Picadon, the “flash” of the A-bomb explosion. It was only after months of reflection that Resnais settled on the idea that Picadon should be a fiction, and that the impact of Hiroshima would be refracted through the viewpoint of a foreign woman. It was Resnais who brought Duras to the project, at the end of the decade when she had achieved literary stardom with Un barrage contre le Pacifique and Moderato Cantabile. It took Duras all of two months to turn out a finished script, all the while working closely with her director. Although Resnais’ links to Eisenstein seem obvious, Griffith’s Intolerance was the film he and Duras had in their heads. “Marguerite Duras and I had this idea of working in two tenses,” he told Parisian journalist Joan Dupont in a recent interview. “The present and the past coexist, but the past shouldn’t be in flashback…. You might even imagine that everything the Emmanuelle Riva character narrated was false; there’s no proof that the story she recites really happened. On a formal level, I found that ambiguity interesting.”

The first time I saw Hiroshima Mon Amour was for a film history class I took as an undergrad. It really is a compulsory title for anyone studying film, and at the time I thought it interesting but pretentious and all but dismissed it. Perhaps this was because I had found Night and Fog incredibly well done and effective, but Hiroshima left me cold. It was not until recently that I learned that Night in Fog was made as more than just a documentary, it was also an artistic experiment. Knowing more about Resnais’ style, I was much more appreciative of the poignancy of Hiroshima this time around.

• • • • • •

Please consider helping the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Click here to donate.

cinema experiences classic film

Secret Cinema (Shhh!)

WARNING: This post reveals the super-secret secret of Secret Cinema. Read at your own risk.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Secret Cinema, an interactive, cult film event put on by Future Cineama. The aim of the game is to completely immerse the audience in the atmosphere of the film they will be screening. The gimmick is that audiences aren’t notified of where it will be screened or what they will be watching. Once signed up on the website, participants are given clues such as what to wear and where to meet at a designated date–tell no one!

Continue reading

British Cinema History: Hamlet

academia classic film essays

British Cinema History: Hamlet

This is the second paper I did on a Laurence Olivier film last semester for my course. I was interested in looking at Larry and his important role in the British film industry during the 1940s. His Shakespeare films exemplified what critics back then termed “quality” cinema. This paper is an exploration of the muddled definition of the term and how it applied to the 1948 version of Hamlet.

Continue reading

Cinema History: That Hamilton Woman

academia classic film essays

Cinema History: That Hamilton Woman

One thing I love about grad school is that we can choose our own research topics for class papers. Last semester, I wrote about two Laurence Olivier films: That Hamilton Woman (for my Heritage Film class) and Hamlet (for my British Cinema class).  I mentioned them a few times at the facebook page while I was holed up in my room after Christmas trying to get them done by the deadline, and a few people expressed interest in reading them after they were finished. I was only willing to share if I got good marks on them, and luckily they both received distinctions (phew). So, without further adieu, a discussion of propaganda, performance, and heritage in Alexander Korda’s wartime propaganda film That Hamilton Woman.

Continue reading

academia classic film laurence olivier

Art in Film: Hamlet (1948)

I’m just about finished with my essay for my British cinema class.  I’m writing about Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet and how it conforms to the concept of “quality cinema” laid out by British critics of the 1940s:

Prior to WWII, British cinema was not regarded in a very serious light. Though the 1930s was a productive period and many émigré directors and technicians were inflecting a  “rich stylistic and thematic corpus of films,” the output of the British film industry at this time was seen by both critics on the home front and cinephiles abroad as being inferior to Hollywood standards and unworthy of praise. It was not until the early 1940s that critics began discerning a wave of films that “seemed to have a positive cultural identity of their own.” From roughly 1942 to 1948, critics from periodicals such as The Times, Evening Standard, and The Observer used the term “quality” to define certain British films that they believed were artistic, realistic, embedded with deeper meaning, infused with a particular Britishness or national identity, and would hopefully appeal to a wide variety of audiences in Britain and abroad. By imposing such high-brow judgments on films, the “quality” critics “hoped to change the nature of mass cinema in Britain.” —the opening paragraph of my essay

Hamlet is undoubtedly a quality film. It was praised for its artistry and acting, and Olivier was labeled an auteur filmmaker. Out of all of his straight cinematic Shakespearean adaptations, Hamlet has always been my favorite. It’s simply a beautiful film. The use of black and white, the lighting, the costumes, the set design, the deep-focus photography. I have to agree with New York Times critic Terrence Rafferty who says:

Olivier may be the only actor who has fully recognized that Hamlet’s irresolution has its own fierce energy, and that his morbidity is, at heart, a kind of ardor. If Olivier were better “suited” to the daunting role, he might not have unearthed so many fresh truths in playing it. His Hamlet may actually be his greatest achievement as a filmmaker. In Olivier’s hands, Shakespeare’s elusive, haunted, infinitely suggestive tragedy becomes unusually vivid and compelling, and yet remains, as it must, wondrous strange.

Continue reading