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HollywoodGolightly

"Last Year at Marienbad" (1961)

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Alain Resnais' *Last Year at Marienbad (L'ann?e derni?re ? Marienbad)* (1961) has earned a reputation as being a "difficult" or "challenging" movie, which is unfortunate because if you watch it in the proper frame of mind, it's one of the most delightful movies ever made.

 

In order to really enjoy it, you need to let go of any preconceived notions or expectations of a conventional narrative, plot, or character development. It is very much a stream-of-consciousness movie, and if you just watch without trying to make sense of it in a conventional way, it will slowly work its wonders on you in a way that perhaps no other movie can.

 

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The basic premise is really quite simple: at a fancy European hotel, a man (Giorgio Albertazzi) tries to convince a woman (Delphine Seyrig) that they'd met about a year ago, had a passionate and, presumably, romantic encounter, and that they promised they'd meet again one year later. The man is known simply as "X" and the woman as "A". Her husband or companion is "M" (Sacha Pito?f), and he mostly just stands around or plays a card game.

 

At first, "A" appears not to believe "X" and it's not clear whether or not they did, in fact, meet one year earlier. As the movie progresses, we become aware that the same events are being remembered in various ways, and it's up to the viewer to decide what to make of it - the story really is one you tell yourself, because what is seen and heard can be interpreted in many different ways.

 

Resnais reportedly worked closely with novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet to find the right tone to translate his novel to the big screen. He also got terrific contributions from cinematographer Sacha Vierny, who shot the movie in the most breathtaking, widescreen black-and-white; and from Francis Seyrig's organ-based soundtrack, which is the perfect complement for the ornate images that fill the visual frame.

 

After having been out of print on DVD for many years in the United States, *Last Year at Marienbad* was recently reissued by Criterion in both DVD and blu-ray formats, with a gorgeous new digital transfer that makes the movie look almost like new. At Resnais' request, the blu-ray version includes the movie's monoaural soundtrack in both digital format and in its original, uncompressed format. The Criterion edition also includes the original and reissue trailers and several short features that help shed light on this sometimes perplexing film.

 

To be honest, I didn't really "get" the film on my initial viewing, but repeat viewings over the years have vastly enhanced my enjoyment of it, and I would agree with those who consider this film to be perhaps the culmination, in many ways, of the French New Wave.

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That's a nice way to introduce what I consider one of the best films ever made. I could watch Last Year at Marienbad a hundred times and not get tired of Sacha Vierney's camera elegantly gliding around the chateau and gardens of Marienbad or curiously gazing at Delphine Seyrig's face. Still, what fills me with awe is Resnais somehow managing to fully do justice to Alain Robbe-Grillet's metaphysical conceits. We've let the studios and their publicists define "fun" and "entertainment" for us in ways that are reductive and condescending. Last Year at Marienbad engages the whole of my being and invites what Matthew Arnold calls "my best self" to come out and play for 94 glorious minutes.

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Thank you, Orson, I'm glad to hear you like this movie as much as I've grown to like it recently. Now that it is available on blu-ray, I hope to watch it again many more times.

 

As for the creative collaboration between Resnais and Robbe-Grillet, it seems from some of the supplements and essays on the Criterion set that it wasn't always as smooth as it was first made out to be, although one could still say that the differences between the two weren't all that great. I mean, Robbe-Grillet probably had a much larger input in the making of the movie that most screenwriters usually get.

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Holly, thanks for posting this. I saw it when it was first released and hated it . However, I was still a teenager then and just starting to develop an interest (which later turned into a passion) for foreign films. Your timing was perfect too, just today, I saw it on a list of new DVDs at my local library. I'm going online and put in a reservation for it. Since it's been so long since I saw it, I don't really recall much about the film so I can look at it with out any preconceived ideas.

 

Thanks again.

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Well, thanks to the BF sales, I finally went ahead and bought this on blu-ray - a real steal at about $17, too. (It's a good thing I didn't buy it when it first came out!)

 

I'll be watching this one again for the holidays, I hope. :D

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I've always been a strong fan of this flick. It's extremely influential to help generate creativity.

(On the other hand I am NOT a fan of Pauline Kael who sniffed at it. Gad... loathe that shrew).

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