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© 2012 Simon Hitchman

Alain Resnais is one of cinema’s great originals whose mastery of technique has been put at the service of some of the most thought-provoking and inspired films ever made. Influenced in his youth by comic-books and surrealism, he began his career with a series of remarkable documentaries, including most famously, Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955), once described by Francois Truffaut as “the greatest film ever made.”

Resnais’ transition to narrative feature films proved an immediate success; his first two films, Hiroshima mon amour and L’Année dernière à Marienbad, winning over international audiences despite their non-linear narratives and lack of exposition. In these and the films that followed, Resnais used film brilliantly to explore the effects of time, memory and the imagination on human consciousness. From the 1980s onwards, Renais has drawn on music and theatre as an inspiration, working repeatedly with a core group of actors comprising Sabine Azéma, Pierre Arditi and André Dussollier on such films as Mélo (1986), Smoking, No Smoking (1993), and Coeurs (2006).


Though only 13 minutes in length, this short documentary about a tragic event in the Spanish Civil War and the famous artwork Picasso created as a response, is undoubtedly one of Resnais’s finest films. Here, for the first time, the stylistic elements of the director’s later work — fragmented imagery, poetic voice-over, electrifying music — come together to create a film as compelling to view as the painting that inspired it.

Toute la mémoire du monde
  (All the Memory of the World, 1956)

An atmospheric documentary about Paris’s labyrinthian Bibliothèque Nationale that draws parallels between the operation of this repository of 6 million books and the workings of the human mind. Stunning tracking shots of cavernous settings and a foreboding voice over create an ominous mood that evokes the stories of Jorge Luis Borges and anticipates L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year At Marienbad, 1961).

  Toute la memoire du monde









  (Private Fears in Public Places, 2006)

Resnais won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival for this sharply observed, beautifully crafted comedy/drama adapted from the play by Alan Ayckbourn. Exploring the themes of loneliness and longing, the film follows six lonely characters whose paths cross in a wintry, snowbound Paris.




Muriel ou Le temps d’un retour
  (Muriel or The Time of Return, 1963)

Delphine Seyrig is Hélène, an antiques dealer in Boulogne, whose attempt to conjure up her past by inviting an ex-lover to stay causes conflict with her stepson Bernard, a young man tormented by his participation in a war crime in Algeria. Filmed, edited and scored to achieve maximum disquiet, this complex study of guilt and regret examines the relationship between how things are remembered and how they actually were.












In an interview, Resnais recalled that he was not allowed to see Henri Bernstein’s play Melo (1929) as a child, but that his parents brought him back the programme and his adaptation was an attempt to recreate the play he would have wished to see. Brilliantly staged and acted (Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi won César Awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor), this tragic story of love, betrayal, and the healing power of music is the perfect cinematic realisation of his childhood ambition. read the full synopsis and review



Over the course of one drunken, tormented night, dying writer Clive Langham (John Gielgud) lies in bed and dreams up narratives using his family as prototypes for the characters. A strange, complex, sometimes hilarious exploration of the creative process in which nothing can be taken at face value and everything is open to interpretation.








Nuit et brouillard
  (Night and Fog, 1955)

Night and Fog is by any consideration among the greatest and most important documentaries ever made and remains one of the most powerful cinematic depictions of the Holocaust. Jean Cayrol’s eloquent narration bears witness to what occurred over contrasting scenes of the abandoned concentration camps 10 years after the liberation and shocking wartime footage taken at the time.

  Nuit et Brouillard


L’Année dernière à Marienbad
  (Last Year at Marienbad, 1961)

Cinema’s greatest unsolved puzzle takes place amidst a sophisticated social gathering in a sumptuously decorated grand hotel where a stranger wanders from corridor to room to garden in pursuit of a woman with whom, he claims, he was once intimate. But is he telling the truth or does he have darker motives? And what really happened last year at Marienbad? Resnais’s enigmatic masterpiece keeps us guessing.

read the full synopsis and review

  Last Year At Marienbad









Je t’aime, je t’aime

A suicidal man (Claude Rich) is chosen by a team of scientists to test their time machine. A malfunction traps him in his past where he is forced to re-live his own fragmented and tragic memories of a doomed love affair. Resnais’s ultimate exploration of time and memory is not only one of the most experimental mainstream feature films ever made, but also one of the most affecting.

  Jules And Jim







Hiroshima Mon Amour


Hiroshima mon amour

Over sixty years after its first release, Resnais’s groundbreaking modernist masterwork still feels like a work of striking originality. Set in the city of the title, the film tells the story of a brief affair between a French actress and a Japanese architect, both of whom are haunted by events that took place during World War II. An essential work of the New Wave that redefined the possibilites of the medium. read the full synopsis and review







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