“As it is, I always will be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death” – Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Jouney Into Night
He began his career as a documentary filmmaker, but rather than trying to capture ‘reality’ in a traditional sense he created cinematic essays on topics which included art, the Holocaust, and plastics. Through these films he developed a detached perspective, allowing audiences to contemplate the subjects rather than just relating them. After making the leap to features, he continued to employ techniques and aesthetics used in his earlier films but now focused on individual experience. Like his documentaries, they are defined by a digressive, analytical nature. Their subjects abstracted through editing, imagery and an ever-accumulating number of facts, moments, experiences, even imaginings in order to understand the mindset of the protagonists. However, after Mon Oncle d’Amerique, his style began to change, embracing fantasy and theatrical elements, as well as furthering his interest in other art forms such as theatre, music and comics. However, if anything has remained constant within his films, it is in their mood and protagonists. While we often speak of his themes as time and memory, it may be more accurate, and inclusive, to say that what he captures is trauma. What we see are individuals who, due to past experience or their hidden desires, are haunted by these feelings and who become remote from those around them. With their difficulty in connecting, being vulnerable or exposing themselves to others they are left with a sense of melancholy, of resignation, if not regret, to their circumstances.
Muriel ou le Temps d’un Retour (1963) – Something of a departure from his previous two features, its reputation has perhaps been overshadowed as a result. Where they explored memory directly, here it becomes a tool showcasing the difficulties of personal communication, how time and context disrupt perception. Where editing in Hiroshima and Marienbad drew connections and associations between disparate moments, we’re pulled in many directions. As shots interrupt scene after scene that are undoubtedly objective, but rely on people who are traumatised, forgetful, deceitful and each with their own motivations. It creates suspense not unworthy of Hitchcock, but also an air of critique, set within a city destroyed by the War, whose past is all but erased by modernisation. A wonderfully disorientating film that leaves few conclusions.
- Smoking/No Smoking (1993)
- Providence (1977)
- Aimer, Boire et Chanter (201?)
- Gershwin (1992)
- Le Mystère de l’Atelier Quinze (1957)
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