I was reading about Hiroshima, mon amour when I came across the famous quote by Godard who said that it is “the first film without any cinematic references”. Now I’m wondering: what is the exact importance of this claim or rather what importance, if any, do you place on a film that contains no cinematic references? Is Godard’s claim true? and lastly came you name some other notable films that do not contain cinematic references?
LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE – Georges Méliès
Quite honestly, I am totally baffled by Godard’s statement here – and not for the first time from him! How can this or indeed any film not have a ‘cinematic reference’? All films are inherently in the process we define as cinema – they do not exist on their own no matter how experimental or stylistically original. Most films reflect and echo films that preceded them, even if obliquely.
Hiroshima, Mon Amour is a great film, It is dense, complex and has a very interesting editing technique that shifts and slides in time that Resnais was to play around with in other films. This film speaks to us on many different levels. To me, it is about how an event in history – one of the most horrific ever – can resonate in the lives of two people from two different cultures. Much could be said of this film, but not that it has no ‘cinematic references’. Please explain the meaning of Godard’s statement relative to this film. I just don’t get it!
Godard was prone to hyperbole in his criticism. That’s because he and the Cahiers crowd were polemicists. He often made exaggerated claims in his critical writing that he never backed up or properly explained. It made his writing effusive, poetic and urgent but not very rigorous.
One of the most enchanting self-references in film history takes place in HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, so I’m surprised by Godard’s comment.
After the brilliant opening sequence, the Japanese man begins to ask the French woman about herself. “What are you doing in Hiroshima?” he asks.
“I am acting in a film” the woman replies, looking right into the lens. This statement is not only part of the fictional world of the film, it’s also a self-reflexive comment on the production of the movie. Riva is indeed acting in a film, and that film is HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR.
I hear what you’re saying, but to be fair to Godard, I wouldn’t count a self-reflexive reference to be a “cinematic reference” in the context of his statement. Obviously it is, but I think Godard was speaking of references that point outwards.
Maybe we’re translating Godard’s comment wrong. In any event, I haven’t read his criticism in a long time. But maybe he wasn’t speaking of cinematic references. Maybe he was speaking in a more general sense, that “Hiroshima” didn’t have any cinematic predecessors and that it was a truly original, modern film.
Godard said that it changed cinema forever, which must have meant a uniqueness in the way the elements were combined – specifically the way it referenced memory and time.
Yes, and the unique combination of documentary footage within a fiction film was pretty groundbreaking too. It actually almost plays like an essay film. The voice-over narration is practically wall to wall and has that essayistic quality.
Roundhay Garden Scene
I remember Godard once said in a interview that he and the rest of the new wave turks were jealous upon seeing HIroshima. If I recall correctly their jealously stemmed from the film’s innovative editing. Godard was always an avid fan of Eisenstein and Welles in part (if nothing else) because of their distinctive ways of cutting. This pitted him against Bazin who dismissed the cut as inferior to the sequence shot – Godard could never understand this theoretical obsession. Editing was what he called the “ideal figure” of cinema, although its anyone’s guess as to whether or not this stands today. In any case, “cinematic references” could be an acknowledgement of the film’s editing breakthroughs, but as I’m ignorant of the context of the quotation, this is pure speculation on my part.
Editing certainly is the “ideal figure” of cinema. It’s what separates cinema from all other art forms and makes it unique. It gives cinema life.
I just saw the Godard quote referenced by User in the wiki article about the film. As the quote is not given any context, until someone can enlighten us further on what (if anything) Godard meant by it, we can only speculate. I think what others have mentioned here applies and we could continue the discussion as to what was different in this film – without worrying too much what Godard meant. I think Sean is on the right track, as Resnais’ innovation in editing is the key here.
The film has many key components for me: the radical flashback editing technique, the mixture of documentary footage with a fictional storyline, the use of voice-over, the highly individual oblique camerawork (which has always reminded me of certain shots in The Third Man), the eerie soundtrack. All these combine to give this film its unusual look and feel. That Resnais was also, thanks to Marguerite Duras’ excellent screenplay, able to incorporate a romance between two people from two different cultural backgrounds, in the context of the war and its aftermath, just adds to the allusive feel of the film. The story deals with loss, guilt, and memory – which seems to be a recurrent theme in other of Resnais’ films after Hiroshima.
Maybe we should just take the Godard statement at face value, as a polemic as Bobby suggests, and discuss the film on its own merit. It was a film that certainly changed things for the young French filmmakers, such as Godard and Truffaut, who could see the new cinematic window of opportunity opened up by Resnais’ editing and its use in this film. Anyway you look at it, a brilliantly conceived and executed film that is one of the most important films of its time and a work that should still give us much food for thought today.
I think this editing technique also influenced filmmakers outside of France such as Schlesinger and Losey in films they did in the 60’s, for example: Accident, Midnight Cowboy, and Sunday Bloody Sunday where a similar ‘memory flashback’ (I don’t know what else to call it) editing technique is used. Unfortunately, this creative technique seems to have faded and is just now used in a cliched way when filmmakers try to ‘fracture’ the narrative. Resnais was the master, but he had few competent students.
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for “Hiroshima”. It’s one of the first films I remember that got me into cinema because of its alluring, mysterious qualities. It just sort of beckoned me into the art form in a really hypnotic way. Those initial impressions and feelings are still fresh in my mind because I’ve only seen the film maybe twice in my life.
discuss the film on its own merit.
One of the themes was that in order to move forward we must ‘forget’ the past and yet the past must remain, as part of who we are. It is a theme that allows the film to have a universality, which makes it fresh and undated. (The theme is also found in Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.) This existential theme would certainly be something Duras struggled with in her artistic and personal life.
Perhaps when Godard said “the first film without any cinematic references” he meant the references were more existential – more about time in terms of memory than in filmic terms.
The end of the film confusingly cycles back to a suggested first meeting as if to say time hasn’t really passed – we, or they, really don’t know who they are.
I wouldn’t take half the things Godard says completely seriously, I doubt he even recalls a lot of the stuff he is later quoted on.
I think Bobby correctly stated the reason: a polemist uses hyperbole to get people to think. It is important to take what he says seriously because that is the role he plays in the history of cinema – he makes people think.
The person who said Casablanca is perfectly right, there is a direct cinematic reference there: and Resnais uses actual footage from Kaneto Shindô’s film Gembatu no ko. I tried to find the original quote just now, but so far no luck. I suspect Godard meant that no film hitherto had approached its subject in remotely the same way Hiroshima did, that Resnais’ art was completely new; which is pretty much what Bobby is suggesting. Even so it’s unlikely to be literally accurate – I’m sure that Resnais was exchanging ideas with Jean Rouch at the time and that Rouch isn’t far away from Hiroshima for example -; still it speaks eloquently for how inspiring and unusual it seemed.
I think Rouch is way closer to Godard than Resnais. When I saw “Moi, un noir” for the first time not long ago, I was amazed at how much Godard’s films look like it. I don’t think Rouch’s influence on Godard can be overestimated.
Robert – This thread disappeared before I could comment on your very apt observation above re the film: “One of the themes was that in order to move forward we must ‘forget’ the past and yet the past must remain, as part of who we are.”
That is an excellent summary and I think your remark that it applies to Berlin Alexanderplatz is also spot on. This gave me an insight into both works that enhances my own appreciation. In both, the characters need to absorb the pain of the past in such a way as to move forward – if that is even possible. There is a profound lesson here for all of us.
As a student of Hollywood melodrama in the 40’s and early 50’s, the theme of a person’s past coming back to somehow haunt him or her, of how the character must confront their past, is a recurrent theme. It goes back to a rather primitive neo-Freudianism that was rampant in the media of the day. What makes Hiroshima Mon Amour and Berlin Alexanderplatz both transcend this, is the fact that the past is presented as a stark, still present reality in both treatments. There is no sentimentality or indeed any easy resolution, as is often the case with the Hollywood form of the genre. It is the difference between film as art and film as melodrama. The art film stills leaves the resolution hanging, subject to interpretation, whereas melodrama offers a resolution or solution that absolves the character of further guilt. In an artistic film, the resolution is sublime – if it occurs at all. In melodrama, the resolution hits you over the head with its lack of subtlety.