NEW WAVE WEEK! Day 3: Alain Resnais

Hello everyone and welcome to Day 3 of the Southern Vision French New Wave week, where we examine six filmmakers whose movies were key to the development of French cinema (and thus cinema all over the world) during the 1950s and 60s. So far we’ve looked at Jean-Luc Godard and Louis Malle. Today, we have a look at the amazing Alain Resnais

Interestingly, Resnais preferred not to be associated with the French New Wave (or Nouvelle Vague, as it was known in France). He didn’t think his films qualified to be part of that genre, but I beg to differ. His three most notable, and arguably best films were made in the early, creative period of that time, between the years 1955 and 1961.

He started out making short films, and this was his preferred format of filmmaking. From 1936 until 1959 he made short films, growing throughout this time and culminating in 1955 with his masterpiece, which Francois Truffaut bluntly and in a very decisive manner called the greatest film ever made. Indeed, Night and Fog is his masterpiece, and a film I think he’s failed to top. That’s not to say that his subsequent films were of poorer quality, just that they all paled in comparison to the haunting power of this influential short film.

In 1959 Resnais went to Japan to make a documentary short about the nuclear bomb drop on Hiroshima, but while filming he decided to include fictional elements and it quickly became his first feature film, Hiroshima Mon Amour. The use of jump cuts, flashback sequences and exciting editing methods was just in time to coincide with Jean-Luc Godard’s famous manner of editing his feature film debut Breathless. Resnais’ film was a thought-provoking analysis of the differing opinions of war, and how certain people feel about such disasters.

The follow-up to Hiroshima could easily be argued as Resnais’ best full-length feature, Last Year at Marienbad. It’s attitude towards the fluidity and strangeness of time was shocking for audiences. The dreamlike manner of filming became distinctly ‘Resnais,’ and fans of the man will find it almost impossible not to mention it while discussing Resnais’ attitude to cinema. This is arguably his most ‘New Wave’ movie, if a film may be given that logo. What I mean by that is that both in terms of plot and visual execution the film feels so much like the New Wave movies of its time, and is a welcome addition to that catalogue in my opinion. The use of assorted and distorted images makes me feel at home amongst other experimental works of the era, particularly the increasingly disturbing and inventive films of Jean-Luc Godard.

This is where Resnais’ creative career peaked. His subsequent films in the decade continued to provoke more serious thoughts about politics and the madness France appeared to be laying in, but then Resnais’ career seemed to change path. This change in direction was marked by the unsuccessful science-fiction failure Je t’aime, Je t’aime. In 1977 he made his first English-language film, Providence, which established Resnais as fully capable of tackling films of a wider range. His next film, My American Uncle, returned Resnais to France and was a massive hit.

In the decades following this, Resnais’ films have continued to show diversity and skill in various genres, and while not all were successful, they all showed that Resnais had a passion for film and intended to continue making new, exciting movies. He recently announced plans for an adaptation of the 1941 play Eurydice, and the public eagerly await further development.

That’s Wednesday’s post. Return tomorrow for another awesome and informative post. Tomorrow we’ll be tackling the only female filmmaker in this series, the delightful, creative Agnes Varda. In the meantime… what’s your thoughts on Alain Resnais? Do you like his movies, or loathe him? If you’re a newbie, does he sound interesting, or boring? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.

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Posted on September 21, 2011, in Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Resnais’ career is so interesting. Well… three films worth are interesting. I’ve only seen the three big ones. The rest of his work doesn’t gather much acclaim (and I can’t say one way or another; I haven’t seen them). But those three were phenomenal, as good as it gets.

    I really owe it to myself to see what else he made, because if they’re even approaching a decent quality, it gives him a depth I don’t know of yet.

    • I, too, have only seen the three big films. Don’t have plans to see any of his later work, but I probably should. I must thank you for recommending his films. I absolutely love Last Year at Marienbad.

  2. Oh gosh, Night and Fog was so good. I actually still get nightmares from it. I must check out the rest of Resnais’ work. Another great post!

    • Thanks. I definitely recommend Hiroshima mon Amour — Resnais’ first feature film. It’s a sort of dark political love story that I think you’d like.

  3. I was definitely impressed with Last Year at Marienbad, have to see more of his films.

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