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Last Year At Marienbad  
Alain Resnais
1961 || 94 mins

In the vast rooms, long corridors and perfectly manicured grounds of a grand hotel, elegantly dressed guests wander, converse, or play games. We eavesdrop on a Man, X (Giorgo Albertazzi), as he attempts to convince a Woman, A (Delphine Seyrig), that they had an affair the previous year and had agreed to meet again now a year later in order to go away together. The woman seems not to remember but is intrigued by the man’s statements. Their conversation stops abruptly when another Man, M (Sacha Pitoeff), who may or may not be the Woman’s husband, approaches. As the film unfolds, X continues to press the woman, but is he her saviour or seducer in this world where nothing is what it appears to be?

see also articles on:
Top 10 Alain Resnais Films || Alain Resnais Profile|| French New Wave History || French New Wave Film Guide

Written by avant-garde author Alain Robbe-Grillet, Last Year at Marienbad is a complex cinematic mystery story that breaks all the rules of traditional narrative film-making. In place of plot, we are presented instead with an insoluble puzzle, in which lines and situations repeat, over and over, and the mise-en-scene is deliberately artificial. The effect is reminiscent of a dream, and, like a dream, the meaning of what we are seeing can only be guessed at.

Much of the film’s lasting impression comes from the extraordinary visuals conjured up by director Alain Resnais. The camera glides slowly over ceilings, along corridors and across rooms, drawing us into the baroque, labyrinthian setting. By contrast, the characters who occupy the hotel and grounds often seem more like static tableaux than real people. In one famous shot, the camera follows a couple outside into the rigidly formal garden and we become aware that something’s not quite right: the people cast shadows, but the statues and shrubs do not. The effect is reminiscent of the work of surrealist painters like Giorgio de Chirico and Paul Delvaux in its beautiful but otherworldly atmosphere.

Like much of director Resnais’ work, Last Year at Marienbad explores the subjective nature of memory. Characters remember the same events in different ways, suggesting there can be no objective truth about what has happened. The linearity of time is also brought into question; the past, present and future all appear to occur at once in the same place.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay (Alain Robbe-Grillet), and it won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Film Festival. Though critical opinion was divided (it was not a commercial success and some critics described it as pretentious and incomprehensible), the film has proved remarkably influential and holds a unique place in cinema history.

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