Last Year at Marienbad

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Last Year at Marienbad
Marienbadposter.jpg
French theatrical release poster
FrenchL'Année dernière à Marienbad
Directed byAlain Resnais
Written byAlain Robbe-Grillet
Produced by
Starring
CinematographySacha Vierny
Edited by
Music byFrancis Seyrig
Production
companies
  • Terra Film
  • Société Nouvelle des Films Cormoran
  • Precitel
  • Como Films
  • Argos Films
  • Les Films Tamara
  • Cinétel
  • Silver Films
  • Cineriz
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 29 August 1961 (1961-08-29) (Venice)
  • 29 September 1961 (1961-09-29) (France)
  • 1 November 1961 (1961-11-01) (Italy)
Running time
94 minutes
Countries
  • France
  • Italy
LanguageFrench

Last Year at Marienbad (French: L'Année dernière à Marienbad; released in the United Kingdom as Last Year in Marienbad) is a 1961 Left Bank film directed by Alain Resnais from a screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet.[a] Set in a palace in a park that has been converted into a luxury hotel, it stars Delphine Seyrig and Giorgio Albertazzi as a woman and a man who may have met the year before and may have contemplated or started an affair, with Sacha Pitoëff as a second man who may be the woman's husband. The characters are unnamed.

Plot[edit]

In an ornate baroque hotel populated by wealthy individuals and couples who socialize with each other, a man approaches a woman and claims they met the year before at a similar resort (perhaps at Frederiksbad, Karlstadt, Marienbad, or Baden-Salsa) and had a romantic relationship, but she responded to his request to run away together by asking him to wait a year, which time has now elapsed. The woman insists she has never met the man, so he proceeds to attempt to remind her of their shared past, while she rebuffs him and contradicts his account. Between interactions with the woman, a second man, who may be the woman's husband, asserts his dominance over the first man by repeatedly beating him at a mathematical game (a version of Nim).

Through ambiguous flashbacks and disorienting shifts of time and location, the film explores the relationships between the three characters. Conversations and events are repeated in different places in the building and grounds, and there are numerous tracking shots of the hotel's corridors with ambiguous and repetitive voice-overs. No certain conclusion is offered regarding what is real and what is imagined, but at the end of the film the woman submits and leaves the hotel with the first man.

Cast[edit]

While the characters are unnamed in the film, in Robbe-Grillet's published "ciné-novel" of the screenplay the first man is referred to with the letter "X", the woman with the letter "A", and the second man with the letter "M".

Production[edit]

Last Year at Marienbad was created out of an unusual collaboration between its writer, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and its director, Alain Resnais. Robbe-Grillet described its basis:

Alain Resnais and I were able to collaborate only because we had seen the film in the same way from the start, and not just in the same general outlines but exactly, in the construction of the least detail as in its total architecture. What I wrote might have been what was already in [his] mind; what he added during the shooting was what I might have written. ... Paradoxically enough, and thanks to the perfect identity of our conceptions, we almost always worked separately.[2]

The screenplay Robbe-Grillet wrote was very detailed, specifying not only the dialogue and gestures and décor, but also the placement and movement of the camera and the sequencing of shots in the editing. Resnais filmed the script with great fidelity, and when Robbe-Grillet, who was not present during the filming, saw the rough-cut, he said he found the film just as he had intended it, while recognizing how much Resnais had added to make it work on the screen and fill out what was absent from the script. Robbe-Grillet published his screenplay, illustrated by shots from the film, calling it a "ciné-roman" (ciné-novel).[3]

Despite the close correspondence between the written and filmed works, numerous differences between them have been identified. Two notable examples are the choice of music in the film (Francis Seyrig's score introduces extensive use of a solo organ), and a scene near the end of the film in which the screenplay explicitly describes a rape, whereas the film substitutes a series of repeated overexposed tracking shots moving towards the smiling woman.[4] In statements by the two authors of the film in the decades after its release, it was partly acknowledged that they did not entirely share the same vision of it. According to Resnais, Robbe-Grillet used to insist that it was he who wrote Marienbad, without question, and that Resnais's filming of it was a betrayal—but that since he found it very beautiful he did not blame Resnais for it.[5]

Filming took place, using black-and-white film and the Dyaliscope widescreen process, over a period of ten weeks between September and November 1960. Most of Delphine Seyrig's dresses in the film were designed by Chanel.[6] The locations used for most of the interiors and the gardens were the palaces of Schleissheim and Nymphenburg, including the Amalienburg hunting lodge, and the Antiquarium of the Residenz, all of which are in and around Munich. Additional interior scenes were filmed in the Photosonore-Marignan-Simo studios in Paris. No filming was done in the Czech spa town of Marienbad, nor does the film allow the viewer to know with certainty which, if any, scenes are supposed to be located there.[7][8][9]

Style[edit]

Still from Last Year at Marienbad. In this surreal image, the people cast long shadows, but the trees do not, because the shadows were painted and the scene shot on an overcast day.

In determining the visual appearance of the film, Resnais said he wanted to recreate "a certain style of silent cinema", which he sought to produce through his direction, as well as the actors' make-up;[10] he even asked Eastman Kodak if they could supply an old-fashioned filmstock that would "bloom" or "halo" to create the look of a silent film, but they could not.[11] Resnais showed his costume designer photographs from Marcel L'Herbier's L'Inhumaine (1924) and L'Argent (1928), for which great fashion designers of the 1920s had created the costumes, and asked members of his team to look at other silent films, particularly G. W. Pabst's Pandora's Box (1929), as he wanted Seyrig's appearance and manner to resemble that of Louise Brooks in that film (a plan that was undermined somewhat when Seyrig cut her hair, necessitating the development of her own iconic hairstyle).[12] The style of certain silent films is also suggested by the manner in which the characters who populate the hotel are mostly seen in artificial poses, as if frozen in time, rather than behaving naturalistically.[13]

The film continually creates an ambiguity in the spatial and temporal aspects of what it shows and creates uncertainty in the mind of the spectator about the causal relationships between events. This is achieved through editing by giving apparently incompatible information in consecutive shots, or within a single shot that seems to show impossible juxtapositions, or by means of repetitions of events in different settings. These ambiguities are matched by contradictions in the narrator's voice-over commentary.[14] Among the notable images in the film is a scene in which two characters (and the camera) rush out of the château and are faced with a tableau of figures arranged in a geometric garden; although the people cast long dramatic shadows (which were painted on the ground), the trees in the garden do not (and are, in fact, not real trees, but constructions).

The manner in which the film is edited challenged the established classical style of narrative construction.[15] It allowed the themes of time and the mind and the interaction of past and present to be explored in an original way.[16] As spatial and temporal continuity is destroyed by the methods of filming and editing that are used, the film offers instead a "mental continuity", a continuity of thought.[17]

While films that immediately preceded and followed Marienbad in Resnais's career showed a political engagement with contemporary issues (the atomic bomb, the aftermath of the occupation of France, the then-taboo subject of the war in Algeria), Marienbad was seen as going in a completely different direction and focusing principally on style.[15] Commenting on this departure, Resnais said: "I was making this film at a time when I think, rightly, that one could not make a film, in France, without speaking about the Algerian War. Indeed I wonder whether the closed and stifling atmosphere of L'Année does not result from those contradictions."[18]

Reception[edit]

Contemporary critical response to the film was polarized.[19][20] The controversy was fueled when Robbe-Grillet and Resnais appeared to give contradictory answers when asked whether the man and woman had actually met at Marienbad last year or not, as this was used as a means of attacking the film by those who disliked it.[21]

In 1963, the writer and filmmaker Ado Kyrou declared the film a total triumph in his influential Le Surréalisme au cinéma,[22] recognizing the ambiguous environment and obscure motives within the film as representing many of the concerns of surrealism in narrative cinema. Another early supporter, the actor and surrealist Jacques Brunius, declared that "Marienbad is the greatest film ever made".[23]

Less reverently, film critic Pauline Kael called Marienbad "the high-fashion experimental film, the snow job at the ice palace ... back at the no-fun party for non-people".[24] The film received an entry in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, in which authors Harry Medved, Randy Dreyfuss, and Michael Medved lampooned its surrealistic style and quoted numerous critics who found it to be pretentious or incomprehensible.

The movie inspired a brief craze for the variation of Nim played by the characters.[25]

Although it remains disparaged by some critics, Last Year at Marienbad has come to be regarded by many as one of Resnais' greatest works. Review aggregation website They Shoot Pictures, Don't They has determined it to be the 83rd most acclaimed movie in history, and it received 23 votes in the British Film Institute's decennial Sight & Sound polls.[26][27] The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa cited it as one of his favorite films.[28][29]

In July 2018, Marienbad was selected to be screened at the 75th Venice International Film Festival in the "Venice Classics" section.[30]

Awards[edit]

The film was refused entry to the Cannes Film Festival, reportedly because Resnais had signed Jean-Paul Sartre's Manifesto of the 121 against the Algerian War,[31] but it won the Golden Lion at the 22nd Venice International Film Festival in 1961. In 1962, it was chosen as the best French film of the previous year by the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics. It was selected as the French entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 34th Academy Awards in 1962 and, though it was not chosen as one of the five nominees for that award,[32] Robbe-Grillet was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay the following year for his work on the film.[33] The film was also nominated for a Hugo Award in the Best Dramatic Presentation category.

Interpretations[edit]

Numerous explanations of the film's events have been put forward, among them: that it is a version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, that it represents the relationship between patient and psychoanalyst, that it all takes place in the woman's mind,[34] that it all takes place in the man's mind and depicts his refusal to acknowledge he has killed the woman he loved,[35] and that the characters are ghosts or dead souls in limbo.[36] Some have noted the film has the atmosphere and the form of a dream, and claim the structure of the film may be understood by the analogy of a recurring dream,[37] or even that the man's meeting with the woman is the memory (or dream) of a dream.[38]

Others have heeded, at least as a starting point, the indications given by Robbe-Grillet in the introduction to his "ciné-novel" of the screenplay: "Two attitudes are then possible: either the spectator will try to reconstitute some 'Cartesian' scheme – the most linear, the most rational he can devise – and this spectator will certainly find the film difficult if not incomprehensible; or else the spectator will let himself be carried along by the extraordinary images in front of him ... and to this spectator, the film will seem the easiest he has ever seen: a film addressed exclusively to his sensibility, to his faculties of sight, hearing, feeling."[39] As a suggestion of how one might view the work, he offered that "The whole film, as a matter of fact, is the story of a persuading ["une persuasion"]: it deals with a reality which the hero creates out of his own vision, out of his own words."[40]

Resnais, for his part, gave a more abstract explanation of the film's purpose: "For me this film is an attempt, still very crude and very primitive, to approach the complexity of thought, of its processes."[41]

Influence[edit]

The impact of Last Year at Marienbad upon other filmmakers has been widely recognized and variously illustrated, extending from French directors (like Agnès Varda, Marguerite Duras, and Jacques Rivette) to international figures (like Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini).[42] Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980)[43] and David Lynch's Inland Empire (2006)[44] are two films that are cited with particular frequency as showing the influence of Marienbad. Terence Young stated that he styled the pre-credits sequence of the James Bond film From Russia with Love (1963) on Marienbad,[45] and Peter Greenaway said the film had been the most important influence upon his own filmmaking (and he himself would go on to establish a close working relationship with its cinematographer, Sacha Vierny).[46]

The film's visual style has been imitated in many TV commercials and fashion photography,[47] and the music video for "To the End", a 1994 single by British rock group Blur, is based on it.

Marienbad was the main inspiration for Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel Spring–Summer 2011 collection, as Coco Chanel designed the costumes for the film.[48] Lagerfeld's show was complete with a fountain and a modern replica of the film's famous garden, which he combined with the gardens at Versailles.

Chanel designer Virginie Viard reused Lagerfeld's idea of basing a collection around the film for 2022's fall Paris Fashion Week. [49]

Home video releases[edit]

On 23 June 2009, the Criterion Collection released Last Year at Marienbad in the United States, on both Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray Disc.[50] Alain Resnais participated in this release, and he insisted it include an unrestored soundtrack in addition to the restored one, saying:

Sound recording and reproduction techniques have changed a lot over the decades. If one remasters a film so as to tailor it to the standards of 2009, there is a danger of altering drastically the balance of the voices, the sound effects, and the music. By correcting so-called flaws, one can lose the style of a film altogether. It is better to respect the sound characteristics of the time, especially as in most cases they do not disturb the viewer anymore after two minutes. Above all, if one removes the background hiss from the soundtrack, one takes out all the harmonic frequencies of the actors' voices in the process. Be it in the low, the medium, or the treble range, the voices become neutral, flat, mannered; the acting loses a great part of its dramatic value. When you see an aggressively remastered film by Sacha Guitry, you have the feeling the voice you hear is not Guitry's; you believe that this is a dubbed film and the dialogue is being read or recited. In most cases I know, the remastering is so brutal that the performances are deprived of their appeal. Every time I have had the opportunity to compare an unrestored and a restored soundtrack in a recording studio, the loss was obvious. The same goes for the music: if one corrects a distorted spot, the music is likely to sound dead. As a director, I do not object to a carefully considered, non-mechanical remastering of my films, but I am keen on giving the viewer the choice between the two soundtracks. As a viewer, I always prefer what may be called the original version.[51]

The Criterion packaging of the film went out of print in March 2013.[52]

StudioCanal released the film in Europe on Blu-ray and DVD in September 2018,[53] and Kino Lorber released it in the United States in August 2019.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ According to Thomas Beltzer, in Last Year at Marienbad: An Intertextual Meditation, the film's script may have been based in part on The Invention of Morel, a science fiction novel published in 1940 by Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares. The Invention of Morel is about a fugitive hiding out on a deserted island who one day awakens to discover the island miraculously filled with anachronistically dressed people who, according to the text, "dance, stroll up and down, and swim in the pool, as if this were a summer resort like Los Teques or Marienbad." He later learns they are creations of an inventor, Morel, whose recording machine captured the exact likenesses of a group of friends, which are "played" over and over again. Although Alain Robbe-Grillet acknowledged familiarity with the novel, Alain Resnais had not read the book at the time of making the film.[1] Later, both a French television film, L'invention de Morel (1967), and an Italian film, L'Invenzione di Morel (1974), were produced as explicit adaptations of Bioy Casares' work.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Benayoun 1980, p. 98.
  2. ^ From the introduction to Alain Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad: a Ciné-Novel; trans. from the French by Richard Howard. (London: John Calder, 1962) p. 6.
  3. ^ Alain Robbe-Grillet, L'Année dernière à Marienbad: ciné-roman. (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1961). See the introduction, pp. 10–12, for his account of the film's gestation.
  4. ^ Leutrat 2000, pp. 52–60.
  5. ^ Benayoun 1980, p. 103.
  6. ^ Leutrat 2000, pp. 62, 70.
  7. ^ Monaco 1978, pp. 57–9.
  8. ^ Leutrat 2000, p. 70.
  9. ^ Antoine de Baecque, "Ce lieu réel n'existe pas, ou si peu...", in Libération, 27 août 2004. [Retrieved 10 October 2015]
  10. ^ Armes 1968, p. 105.
  11. ^ James Monaco, Alain Resnais: the role of imagination. (London: Secker & Warburg, 1978) p. 55. Also in True Fiction (L'Année dernière à Marienbad), at Neugraphic.com (retrieved 21 December 2020).
  12. ^ Renais interview on Criterion supplemental DVD
  13. ^ James Monaco, Alain Resnais: the role of imagination. (London: Secker & Warburg, 1978) p. 64.
  14. ^ David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson, Film Art: an Introduction; 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993) pp. 391–396.
  15. ^ a b James Monaco, Alain Resnais: the role of imagination]. (London: Secker & Warburg, 1978) p. 53. Also in True Fiction (L'Année dernière à Marienbad), at Neugraphic.com (retrieved 21 December 2020).
  16. ^ Armes 1968, p. 185.
  17. ^ Brunius 1962, p. 123.
  18. ^ Emma Wilson, Alain Resnais. (Manchester University Press, 2006) p. 84: "Et faire ce film au moment où je crois, justement, qu'on ne peut faire de film, en France, sans parler de la guerre d'Algérie. D'ailleurs, je me demande si l'atmosphère close et étouffante de L'Année ne résulte pas de ces contradictions."
  19. ^ Benayoun 1980, pp. 84–5.
  20. ^ Leutrat 2000, pp. 7–8.
  21. ^ Brunius 1962, p. 122.
  22. ^ Ado Kyrou, Le Surréalisme au cinéma. ([Paris]: Le Terrain Vague, 1963) p. 206.
  23. ^ Brunius 1962, pp. 122–7, 153.
  24. ^ Pauline Kael, "The Come-Dressed-as-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties", in I Lost It at the Movies. (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1965) p. 186.
  25. ^ "Games: Two on a Match", Time Magazine, 23 March 1962, archived from the original on 19 February 2011
  26. ^ "1,000 Greatest Films (Full List)". Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  27. ^ "Last Year at Marienbad (1961)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 20 August 2012. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  28. ^ Lee Thomas-Mason. "From Stanley Kubrick to Martin Scorsese: Akira Kurosawa once named his top 100 favourite films of all time". Far Out. Far Out Magazine. Retrieved 10 June 2021.
  29. ^ "Akira Kurosawa's Top 100 Movies!". Archived from the original on 27 March 2010.
  30. ^ "Biennale Cinema 2018, Venice Classics". labiennale.org. 13 July 2018. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  31. ^ Steinlein, Almut (12 January 2010). "Letztes Jahr in Marienbad" (in German). Critic.de. Retrieved 6 November 2011.
  32. ^ Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  33. ^ "The 35th Academy Awards (1963) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
  34. ^ Armes 1968, p. 184.
  35. ^ John Ward, Alain Resnais, or the Theme of Time. (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968) p. 39.
  36. ^ Cited by Jean-Louis Leutrat, L'Année dernière à Marienbad; trans. by Paul Hammond. (London: BFI Publishing, 2000) pp. 28–30.
  37. ^ Brunius 1962, pp. 124–6.
  38. ^ Benayoun 1980, pp. 99–100.
  39. ^ Introduction to Alain Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad: a Ciné-Novel; trans. from the French by Richard Howard. (London: John Calder, 1962) pp. 17–18.
  40. ^ Introduction to Alain Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad: a Ciné-Novel; trans. from the French by Richard Howard. (London: John Calder, 1962) p. 12. "Tout le film est en effet l'histoire d'une persuasion: il s'agit d'une réalité que le héros crée par sa propre vision, par sa propre parole."
  41. ^ From an interview with Cahiers du Cinéma, quoted by Robert Benayoun, Alain Resnais: arpenteur de l'imaginaire. Paris: Ramsay, 2008. pp. 105–106: "Ce film est pour moi une tentative, encore très grossière and très primitive, d'approcher la complexité de la pensée, de son mécanisme".
  42. ^ Robert Benayoun, Alain Resnais: arpenteur de l'imaginaire. Paris: Ramsay, 2008. p. 106.
  43. ^ E.g. Last Year at Marienbad: Which Year at Where?, by Mark Polizzotti (an essay for the Criterion Collection). [Retrieved 11 November 2011]
  44. ^ E.g. "Marienbad Returns, Unsettling as Ever", by Mark Harris, in The New York Times, 13 January 2008. [Retrieved 11 November 2011]
  45. ^ p.27 Rubin, Stephen Jay James Bond Films Random House Value Publishing, 1 Mar 1982
  46. ^ Film-makers on film: Peter Greenaway: an interview with John Whitley in The Daily Telegraph, 14 June 2004. [Retrieved 11 November 2011]
  47. ^ Last Year in Marienbad, [review] by Philip French, in The Observer, 22 April 2007. [Retrieved 11 November 2011]
  48. ^ "Chanel’s Year in Marienbad", by Suzy Menkes, in The New York Times, 5 October 2010. [Retrieved 11 November 2011]
  49. ^ "'We prefer a dream over controversy': Chanel at Paris fashion week". TheGuardian.com. 4 October 2022.
  50. ^ "Last Year at Marienbad Amazon" [Retrieved 2 February 2013]
  51. ^ Barrett, Michael. "Remember LAST YEAR? Are you sure?". Film Score Daily. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  52. ^ "Criterion Out of Print Announcement" [Retrieved 2 February 2013]
  53. ^ "Last Year at Marienbad in official selection at Venice Mostra in an exclusive restored version". StudioCanal. 17 July 2018. Archived from the original on 4 November 2019. Retrieved 21 December 2020.

Sources[edit]

  • Armes, Roy (1968). The Cinema of Alain Resnais. Zwemmer, A.S. Barnes.
  • Benayoun, Robert (1980). Alain Resnais: arpenteur de l'imaginaire (in French). Stock/Cinéma. ISBN 978-2-234-01358-2.
  • Brunius, Jacques (1962). "Every Year in Marienbad". Sight & Sound. Vol. 31, no. 3.
  • Leutrat, Jean-Louis (2000). L'Année dernière à Marienbad. Translated by Hammond, Paul. British Film Institute.
  • Monaco, James (1978). Alain Resnais: The Role of Imagination. Secker & Warburg.

Further reading[edit]

  • Grunenberg, Christoph, and Eva Fischer-Hausdorf [eds.]. Last Year in Marienbad: a Film as Art. Cologne: Wienand Verlag, 2015. (Reviewed by Duncan Fallowell, "Homage to Alain Resnais's mesmerising masterpiece, Last Year in Marienbad", in The Spectator, 3 September 2016.)
  • Hays, David L. "Knowing and Not Knowing, Moving and Not Moving, in Alain Resnais's L'Année dernière à Marienbad." Polysèmes 19 (2018); https://journals.openedition.org/polysemes/3438.
  • Leutrat, Jean-Louis. L'Année dernière à Marienbad. (London: British Film Institute, 2000).
  • Powell, Dilys. The Dilys Powell Film Reader. (Manchester: Carcanet, 1991) pp. 372–373. (Review published in The Sunday Times, 1962, preceded by notes made during Sep. 1961 - Feb. 1962. Review also printed in The Golden Screen. (London: Pavilion Books, 1989) pp. 183–184.)
  • Robbe-Grillet, Alain. L'Année dernière à Marienbad: ciné-roman. (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1961). English translation: Last Year at Marienbad: a Ciné-Novel; translated from the French by Richard Howard. (London: John Calder, 1962).

External links[edit]