utorak, 3. rujna 2013.

Alain Resnais - L'année dernière à Marienbad (1961) [Full Film]


Prošle godine u Marienbadu u cjelini na YouTubeu. Što znači da sada čak i "takav" film može biti ambijentalna pozadina za nešto drugo.

Last Year at Marienbad

The poster child of cinematic modernism, one of those early-'60s event films that seemed to break every rule classical Hollywood ever codified, Last Year at Marienbad left its initial audiences in equal measure ravished by Sacha Vierny's sumptuous cinematography, capturing in rapturous detail every element of its chateau setting's florid production design, and baffled by its deliberately disorienting puzzle-picture narrative, so willfully inscrutable that its three main characters don't even have names. You have to trouble yourself to read the screenplay in order to glean that they're called (like variables in some erotic algorithm) A, X, and M.
Unlike the testimonials to the politique des auteurs, all the rage with the Cahiers du Cinema crowd, Last Year at Marienbad draws its power from a difference engine, the disparate and ultimately divergent sensibilities of its director and screenwriter. New Wave affiliate Alain Resnais, fresh off the critical success of Hiroshima Mon Amour, a film that interrogates the mixing of memory and desire in the lives of two lovers wounded by wartime experiences, plays up Last Year at Marienbad's elegant theatricality, pitched somewhere between statuary and opera, as exemplified by the stilted, nearly Kabuki rendition of Ibsen played during the film's opening scenes. "New Novelist" Alain Robbe-Grillet enjoyed lavishing minute descriptions of almost geometric exactitude on details of architecture and décor, while hiding in plain sight intimations of sadomasochistic rape and murder like perverse Easter eggs in works with titles like The Voyeur, Jealousy, and In the Labyrinth. All of which, it must be said, would've made excellent alternate titles for Last Year at Marienbad.
As Robbe-Grillet describes in his introduction to the published screenplay, Last Year at Marienbad is "an attempt to construct a purely mental space and time—those of dreams, perhaps, or of memory, those of any effective life—without excessive insistence on the traditional relations of cause and effect, nor on an absolute time sequence in narrative." Last Year at Marienbad was filmed, as it were, in the conditional mood, exploiting a narrative tense that hashes together future and past.
Such a philosophy of screenwriting brings to mind Jean-Luc Godard's famous quip: "I agree a film should have a beginning, middle, and end. But not necessarily in that order." Like variations on the game of Nim played throughout Last Year at Marienbad, the film invites the viewer to select and rearrange its constituent parts. Consequently, there's no firm anchor by which audiences can establish any certainty, events take place in an indeterminate time frame, and it's never clear whether they represent reality or fantasy, desire or fear, let alone whose.
In a palatial resort hotel, a man, X (Giorgio Albertazzi), approaches a woman, A (Delphine Seyrig), claiming they met a year ago, "perhaps" in Marienbad, and fell in love. The woman, under the watchful eye of M (Sacha Pitoëff), who may or may not be her husband, begged a year's reprieve before running away with X. And so X has descended on her like a lovelorn Orpheus, to convince her to fulfill her promise. At first incredulous, A slowly comes to accept X's version. At the same time, X's persuasion steadily darkens into its obverse, compulsion.
The repetition-with-variation imagery suggests a violation, a moment of sexualized violence, but Resnais films what the script describes as a relatively overt rape scene with perverse circumspection; the camera rapidly dollies down a hallway, then turns a corner sharply, and enters a room, where A greets it with outstretched arms. Resnais repeats the scenario several times, going so far as to overexpose the film stock so that the image takes on a spectral whiteness. Moments from some lost expressionist screen test, these shots gauge the influence of silent cinema on Last Year at Marienbad's acting and ambience, as does the flagrant lifting of Seyrig's costume and coiffure from Theda Bara and Louise Brooks, respectively. To illustrate precisely what he wanted, Resnais reportedly screened G.W. Pabst's Brooks-starring Pandora's Box for cast and crew.
About 11 minutes into the film, Alfred Hitchcock (or an elaborate full-sized cutout, at any rate) makes one of his trademark cameo appearances, perhaps the only one not in his own film. It's easy to miss in the midst of all those mannequin-like patrons. Not just a debt of gratitude to one of Resnais's favorite filmmakers, this nearly imperceptible jeu d'esprit illuminates his playful approach to mise-en-scène, and teases out the film's generic pedigree.
Whatever else it may or may not be, Last Year at Marienbad is a mystery thriller, using the latter term perhaps a trifle loosely, bearing more than a few trappings of the horror genre. No coincidence, then, that one of the films most indebted to Last Year at Marienbad, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, borrows liberally at stylistic and thematic levels, engaging in similar-seeming Steadicam shots tracking ceaselessly along the Overlook's pattern-carpeted hallways, and putting forward the uncanny suggestion that its terrible events have all happened before and likely will happen again, forever and ever and ever.

Last Year at Marienbad: An Intertextual Meditation

My soul has not yet passed to the image…” - Adolfo Bioy Casares

On the making of novels into films, there are two general schools of thought. Some feel that the film should be faithful to the original and are dismayed when it deviates significantly. Like sophomore literature students, they want the movie to be a faithful crib of the book. Most films, both art and popular, based on prior texts humbly meet this demand – Ragtime, The Shining, Diary of a Country Priest and any of the John Grisham films are just a few examples. Some films even promise a special allegiance by making the author’s name a part of the title such as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein or Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1). Of course, they are never completely faithful as the loyalist bitterly complain. The intrinsic differences between the two mediums makes duplication impossible. Others, ‘the divergents’ we’ll call them, don’t mind if the film deviates significantly or even radically from the original text, and they enjoy thinking about the differences another artist brings to the material. Blade Runner, Solaris and Apocalypse Now are all good examples of the divergent approach.
However, both the loyalists and the divergents would be baffled by the mysterious case of Last Year at Marienbad (L’Année Dernière à Marienbad, Alain Resnais, 1961). Hailed as a triumph of the modernist aesthetic, the film is formally severe and utterly modernist. Its characters are nameless and locked in a zone of their own, a zone that may not even be of this world. At a baroque resort, an unnamed man “X” tries to convince an unnamed woman “A” that they had an affair last year and agreed to meet at the resort and leave her current paramour “M”. She doesn’t remember him at all, but what he tells her has the power to create a past for her and to blend it into her present. They are all caught up in a surreal loop of disjointed time. The characters move like somnambulists through a hermetically sealed world that seems totally surreal. Reading the obsessively thorough screenplay, one gets the feeling that Alain Robbe-Grillet is striving to remain faithful to some unnamed rubric whose invisible influence shapes every move his characters make. One senses that the laborious screenplay is based on some prior text, whether novel or play or short story, yet no credit is given, either in the film or the published screenplay. Last Year at Marienbad presents itself as a pristine work of high modern art.
There is, in fact, a text behind the film – The Invention of Morel, a novella written twenty-one years earlier by Adolfo Bioy Casares, Jorge Luis Borges’ colleague of the Fantastic. The Argentinean masterpiece is about a fugitive, Morel, hiding out alone on a deserted island who one day awakens to discover that the island is miraculously filled with anachronistically dressed people “who dance, stroll up and down, and swim in the pool, as if this were a summer resort like Los Teques or Marienbad” (11). It turns out that Morel’s invention is a diabolical holographic recording device that captures all of the senses in three dimensions. It is diabolical because it destroys its subject in the recording process, rotting the skin and flesh off of its bones, thus gruesomely confirming the native fear of being photographed and also, perhaps, warning of the dangers of art holding up a mirror to nature.
Last Year at Marienbad buries its association with its “low brow” science fiction text; nevertheless, they are relatives all the same. I discovered the kinship by accident on the dust jacket of Casares’ A Plan for Escape, a novel written in the early 1940′s, which also bears an interesting affinity with Last Year at Marienbad. Dust jackets of novels are occasionally mistaken, but I was able to confirm the information by consulting the Encyclopedia Britannica which states that “The novel formed the basis for Alain Robbe-Grillet’s film script for Last Year at Marienbad“. The high modernist masterpiece is “outed” as a postmodern, science fiction film.
Though it is cloaked in formal solipsism, Last Year at Marienbad does more than secretly allude to The Invention of Morel, though allusions abound in what turns out to be a veritable tangle of texts, a Borgean labyrinth of a library. Borges points out in his prologue to the novella that “the title alludes filially to another island inventor, Moreau” (7). The principal female figure in Morel is Faustine, alluding to the devilish pact art inevitably makes with nature. Interestingly, Casares claims that Faustine was inspired by the silent screen star, Louise Brooks. Unlike Marienbad, another related text that will serve as a useful contrast in our discussion of remakes and intertextualiy is Man Facing Southeast, an Argentinean film that flies its flag of loyalty to Casares high through an explicit use of allusion (2). Rantes, patient number thirty-three at a mental hospital, explains that he is a holographic being from outer space. In order to comprehend him, Dennis, the skeptical psychiatrist, reads a passage from Morel in which the holo-recorder/projector is discussed (3). As a fellow Argentine, Subiela (director of the film) is proud to be associated with Casares and he pays suitable tribute to his inspiration whereas Robbe-Grillet and Resnais arrogantly disassociate their work from the sci-fi, Latino source. They even refuse subtle allusion, and the work is diminished as a result.
Understanding that “A” and “M”, and perhaps “X”, in Marienbad are all holographs would enrich our enjoyment of an otherwise incomprehensible film. “A”, the woman, and “M”, her husband, are cycling endlessly in a film that never ends. “X” offers her a way to freedom. Though he also seems strangely caught in their world, he is able to alter the scenarios through the power of suggestion. Maybe he is also a holograph and none of them can leave the resort, but he has at least achieved some self-awareness of what they all are. Maybe like the nameless narrator of Morel, he has edited the film to his own liking and inserted himself as a character. Though Marienbad is substantially different from Morel, knowing about the relationship between the two enriches Marienbad‘s meditation on the relationship between art and nature. Without Morel, Marienbad is mostly an exercise in formalism; however, with the intertextual juxtaposition of the two, it becomes another, different work. It becomes an early false reality film, perhaps the first. Beginning as a mere trickle with The Purple Rose of Cairo and The Last Action Hero, we now have a flood of these ontological vertigo films – Total Recall, Dark City, The Matrix, Existenz, The Thirteenth Floor, The Truman Show and the on-going holo-deck of the various neo-Star Treks just to name a few. In our digital times where CGI billboards pop up in Times Square, false reality and false people have become a global obsession (4).
So why do Robbe-Grille and Resnais hide the fact that Marienbad is a divergent film version of Morel? Is it because they are Eurocentrics who think art should have nothing to do with the genre of science fiction/horror even though, admittedly, Morel is certainly more literary than an example of genre fiction? Mostly though, Marienbad, by keeping itself textually pure, remains a shrine to modernism. As a last dying gasp of modernism, it is in desperate denial regarding its true intertextual nature.
Without The Invention of Morel, Marienbad is merely surreal art for art’s sake. However the film does provide clues that “A”, “M” and “X” are simulacrum and not real people. The play at the beginning of the film slavishly foretells the fates of the protagonists, and “X”‘s endless monologue is spoken by both the play actor and “X”, their voices intentionally blended. All of the paintings in the hotel are mimetic of the resort itself. As they discuss the sculptures in the garden, we suspect that “X” and “A” are sculptures themselves. Then there are the many time dysfunctions – sudden changes in chronology signaled only by the placement of characters and their costume changes. The effect of all these changes is mostly irrelevant because nothing ever really changes at the resort. The essential nature and meaning of the film is utterly dependent on its hidden relationship with Morel, so its formalistic elitism is false. Nevertheless, and this is the beautiful irony of intertextuality, once its indebtedness is acknowledged, Marienbad can go on to have an independent artistic life of its own. It, after all, has very little in common with Morel.
Marienbad reveals in and of itself an ambivalent, dual attitude regarding the relationship of art to life. On the one hand, the film itself presents itself as a work of art that is in agreement with the modernist credo expressed well by poet William Carlos Williams in his landmark 1923 collection of poetry, Spring and All:
.the illusion once dispensed with, painting has this problem before it: to replace not the forms but the reality of experience with its own. now works of art cannot be left in this category of France’s “lie,” they must be real, not “realism” but reality itself.It is not a matter of “representation” much may be represented actually, but of separate existence. (204)
Marienbad dwells on the “separate existence” of its characters. Cinematically, it is a study of the separate reality of its own existence, eschewing the conventions of realism as being false illusion. By its own temporal discontinuity, its nameless characters and hermetically-sealed set, it demands that we accept it as reality itself rather than as a faithful and ultimately illusory representation of reality. Marienbad says by its construction that art is a reality added to reality and not a copy of reality. On the other hand, within the holographic reality, the characters in the theatrical performance that opens the film represent the characters of the film itself. Because the action of the film comes after the play, however, “A” and “X” seem to be imitating the play rather than the other way around. Even their body language is nearly as formal and architectural as the characters in the play. Play and film exist in a Möbius-style feedback loop, and it is impossible to determine which imitates which. Thus, though the film presents itself as non-representational, within itself it presents a story of artifice holding a mirror up to nature and vice versa (not only in the play but in the card game and the various paintings and sculptures around the resort). “X” and “A”, however, seem unaware of the mimetic nature of their activities. Though architecturally beautiful, the world of Marienbad is pure nonsense, chaotic and absurd by the intentional design of its makers. Robbe-Grillet and Resnais are comfortable in the chaos of the a-historical. For them the world does not make sense, so neither should art. It seems they have held a mirror up to nature after all.
Borges and Casares are more progressive than Robbe-Grillet and Resnais in their comfort with intertextuality, but I believe they are extremely traditional in their view of false realities and false people. I believe this in spite of their elegant and advanced ontological play, and play they did. Early in their careers they wrote a brilliant book of detective stories called Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi, and published it under the pen name, H. Bustos Domecq. A false biographical outline of Dr. Honorio Bustos Domecq was attached, allegedly written by schoolteacher, Miss Adelma Badoglio. A flowery forward is provided by Gervasio Montenegro who later turns out to be a fictional character in one of the stories and not just any fictional character, but an anti-Semite who is ridiculed by the jailbird detective throughout the interlocking six stories. Casares himself is known to most well read North Americans only as a fictional character in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” a story by Borges, in which the narrator and Casares discover volume eleven of an encyclopedia of a nonexistent country. Nevertheless, their play was always guided by a strict conservative logic of their own.
In speaking of Casares we must speak of Borges as well. Poor Casares. Not only was he snubbed by our French filmmakers, he was fated to live and die (b. Sept. 15, 1914 – d. March 8, 1999) in the shadow of his more famous colleague. However, as Borges himself once said, “Fame is a form – perhaps the worse form – of incomprehension” (94). He said this, as it happens, in one of his most brilliant stories on the subject of simulacrum and intertextuality, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” an amusing tale that illustrates the old Heraclitus dictum transmuted to literature – no one can read the same book twice. Though most of his fiction is out of print in English, Casares does not deserve his marginalization, for he gives us everything Borges gives us and more. Along with the Borgean logical puzzles and metaphysical, ontological meditations, Casares gives us excellent psychological characterizations (something lacking in Borges’ work) and social/political involvement. His typical narrator is not detached and meticulous as in Borges. More like Philip K. Dick, (but with a much better grasp of literary prose) his favorite narrator is desperate and paranoid and on the verge of a mental breakdown. The strangeness is not just in the observed but in the observer. It is truly a mystery to me (and a Borgean irony as well) why Borges was blessed by the gods of canonicity and Casares was not.
Borges was deeply influenced by Schopenhauer, Berkley and Hume by way of his father’s library, and much of his fiction plays with the illusory nature of the phenomenal world as taught by those philosophers; nevertheless, Borges and Casares are confident that “all pages, all words, predicate the universe” (345) and not the other way around. They have faith in the essential solidity of the phenomenal world, and their false realities work on the theory of Aristotelian displacement and a Catholic transubstantiation of life by art. This is what happens in Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” and “The Mirror and the Mask.”
In The Invention of Morel, the holographic machine destroys everything it records. Formalistically, in other words, on internal evidences alone, the situation is horrifying with many interesting philosophical implications. Perhaps, metaphorically, the story represents the rejection of realistic representation as a value and goal of art. It harks back to the timeless theme of star-crossed lovers. It implies, (an ancient religious theme) that the price of immortality is always death. And of course, it provides the satisfaction that only fiction can provide – an explanation of the unexplainable which is perhaps one of the chief pleasures of reading.
The first text behind Morel is the collective film work of Louise Brooks. Here is the relevant exchange between Sergio Wolf and Casares in a July 1995 interview:
Question: You said that the inspiration for La invención de Morel came to you, at least partially, from the vanishing of Louise Brooks from the movies. What happened with you and Louise Brooks?
Adolfo Bioy Casares: I was deeply in love with her. I didn’t have any luck, because she disappeared quickly. She went to Europe, she made a film with Pabst, and then I didn’t like her so much as when she was in Hollywood. And then, she vanished too early from the movies.
Question: Could she be seen as one of the characters in La invención de Morel?
Adolfo Bioy Casares: Yes, she would be Faustine. (qt. in Louise Brooks)
Knowing that Morel is in part a story about a real person’s love for a screen presence changes the nature of the text and our relationship to it. The novella becomes a meditation on our relationship with the art of cinema, its bestowal of seeming immortality on its stars and the dialectic of our own fulfillment and loss.
In the dark of the theater all of our wishes are fulfilled. However, despite our materiality and the ephemeral flickering of illusion before us, there in the dark we feel ourselves to be mere ghosts, lesser beings in the presence of screen grandeur. We know we matter less as real brings than the fictional beings before us. Casares captures these feelings beautifully:
Now I understand why novelists write about ghosts that weep and wail. The dead remain in the midst of the living… I was horrified that Faustine, who was so close to me, actually might be on another planet; but I am dead, I am out of reach, I thought. (47)
Remember, Faustine is holographic, but her Louise Brooks-like presence is so much larger than life that the living narrator concludes that he must be dead. Not only does the nature of the text itself change, but our relationship with Casares’ novella is also changed by the Brooks/Faustine paring. Many of us have been in love with the artificial constructs of popular culture. This shared experience with the narrator makes the Morel text feel less foreign to us; with the addition of the Brooks text, we become “simpatico” with the narrator and understand his final immolation when he submits himself to Morel’s machine. How many young people empty themselves to become one with their screen idol?
The relationship with Morel to The Island of Dr. Moreau does something else to the novella. Morel becomes, in his dialectic with Well’s mad scientist, a violator of nature through his hubris. Dr. Moreau attempts to create a higher being, but merely creates sad perversities, parodies of both human and animal. Intertextually, Morel becomes a dire warning of the vivi-sectional splicing of the artificial and the real, a confusion we now all live with on a daily basis. In contrast to Robbe-Grillet, Casares is not comfortable with putting art first and demanding that life follow. His tale tries to tell us that it is not wise to confuse the artificial and the real, that it is not wise to prefer artifice over nature. At the end of the novel, the narrator chooses to submit himself to Morel’s deadly machine, splicing himself into the holographic movie in hopes of living eternally with Faustine. Pathetically, he concludes his diary:
My soul has not yet passed to the image; if it had, I would have died, I (perhaps) would no longer see Faustine, and would be with her in a vision that no one can ever destroy. (90)
Like the narrator, for many of us now, artificial images come before reality. For example, upon hearing that I was from Memphis, an adult professional man told me enthusiastically, “I’ve always wanted to visit Memphis. I want to tour the places where John Grisham’s movies were made.” A young man off-road cycling with a friend of mine, paused at the top of a ridge to catch his breath and say, “This is almost as good as Nintendo.” Reality is not what it used to be or rather our relationship to it has become more tenuous. This basic feeling with which many of us live daily is expressed in the increasing catalogue of ontological vertigo films of which Last Year at Marienbad may be the first in line because of its now-revealed relationship with The Invention of Morel.
Standing alone, The Invention of Morel, is a brilliantly conceived and executed horror tale, but when considered with its prior texts of Louise Brooks and Dr. Moreau, it gives us a warning – if you go to the movies too often, you may never come back. Your own life may become a fiction, you could become a nameless character wandering forever in the present tense, alive or dead one cannot be sure.

Works Cited

Bioy-Casares, Adolfo, The Invention of Morel and Other Stories (from La Trama Celeste), translated by Ruth L.C. Simms, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964
“Bioy Casares, Adolfo”, Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/idxref/2/0,5716,43221,00.html 5/15/00
Borges, Jorge Luis, Prologue, The Invention of Morel and Other Stories (from La Trama Celeste), translated by Ruth L.C. Simms, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964
—- Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley, New York: Penguin, 1988
Dust-Jacket Biography from A Plan For Escape by Adolfo Bioy Casares, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975
Jahiel, Edwin, “Man Facing Southeast: a Review” http://www.prairienet.org/ejahiel/manfacin.html 5/15/00
The Louise Brooks Society, http://www.pandorasbox.com/tributes/casares.html 7/13/96
Robbe-Grillet, Alain, Last Year at Marienbad, translated by Richard Howard, New York: Grove Press, 1962
Williams, William Carlos, The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. I. 1909-1939, edited by A.Walton Litz & Christopher MacGowan, New York: New Directions, 1986


  1. I once had a postmodern intertextual moment at a drugstore bookrack when I picked up a paperback with the following title: Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A Novelization Based on the Original Screenplay.
  2. Despite his talent as a filmmaker, Eliseo Subiela is not big on subtlety.
  3. Rantes’ fellow holograph, Beatriz Dick is, I think, a double allusion to Dante and Philip K Dick.
  4. I suspect that the postmodern obsession with false realities and people have something to do with intertextuality and the belief that the world is one of these texts. By looking at early examples of both, I am hoping to understand better the phenomena of intertextually-created reality.

Radu A. Davidescu:
Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad and the Semiotic film Context

In a 1966 Cahiers du Cinéma essay, Christian Metz states: "To ignore Jean-Luc Godard or Alain Resnais in 1966 is practically to exclude oneself from the cinema, just as one would place oneself outside literature if one refused to take Robbe-Grillet or Michel Butor seriously in 1966"[1]. It might be interesting then, to observe how Metz's work on semiology can apply to the works of people that one simply 'cannot ignore' according to him. Thankfully, L'Année dernière à Marienbad (1961) was directed by Resnais and written by Robbe-Grillet, so it would seem only natural to look at how Metz's work applies to the film. While Robbe-Grillet is credited for the screenplay in Marienbad, the two works (screenplay and film) are nevertheless different entities. Leutrat talks about the 'two L'Année dernière à Marienbad' referring to Alain Robbe-Grillet's screenplay and Alain Resnais’ movie as 'twin works, at once divergent and complementary'[2]. Since Metz's work doesn’t directly apply to literature, but rather draws from it, I will concentrate primarily on the film part of L'Année dernière à Marienbad, with the occasional reference to Robbe-Grillet's work as needed. Since Resnais’ work is in a way an interpretation, or translation, of Robbe-Grillet's work, it might also be useful to see how one work translates to another. Here again, semiology comes into play. As Irene Ferreria de Sousa points out in her essay about cinema and Literature, 'semiology is the best tool to analyze the art of cinema and intersemiotic translations'[3]. While not going into a full semiotic analysis of the film, I intend to show that a semiotic view of L'Année dernière à Marienbad is a good tool for analyzing the work but the film’s apparent divergence from the standard semiotic formula is ultimately the most important element of said analysis.
To do this, I will start by looking at the aspect of time in the film and how this applies to the semiotic view of thereof. How do the elements of time shape its relation to the written work and how do they fit in a semiotic context. Following, I will look at the textual element of the film - how does Resnais' work interact with the various elements at play, be it the onscreen text (which there is very little of), the source text of the screenplay, the voice of the protagonists or the narration. Finally, I will conclude with a look at how the film fits within the semiotic formula - what (if one exists) is the crucial syntagma and how does Marienbad conform to or diverge from it.
To Begin, we can look at the element of time in L'Année dernière à Marienbad. Aside from the obvious presence in the title ('last year') that uses the past tense, the film deals largely with the characters' memories of time past that might or might not have happened. It deals with the past in such a way however, that it causes past to become one with the present, almost a part of it, to the point where the viewer is not sure anymore what happens now, or what happened then - last year- at Marienbad. This blurring of the lines between the past and the present is a perfect example of one of the fundamental differences between the written (textual) language and the filmic language. 'Whereas literature has a whole gamut of grammatical tenses which makes it possible to narrate events in relation to another, one might say that on the screen verbs are always in the present tense… by its nature, what we see on the screen is in the act of happening, we are given the gesture itself not the account of it.'[4] Despite this difference, filmmakers have come up with various devices to express passage of time or temporal relations - dissolves, calendar leafs and flashbacks/forwards are a few simple examples. Cinema, in a way, changes this inherent 'present tense' by methods that either hide it or allude to a different tense than the supposed 'present tense' of the filmic image.
L'Année dernière à Marienbad, however, does not use these methods. What little allusion to time that is done, is achieved through the textual element (mainly dialogue/monologue which will be discussed later in this text). Instead, the film presents scenes that happen in the past, future, or that never happened, in the same way that it presents the present. This does cause some disorientation. Metz refers to this as a 'cinema of tense uncertainty'[5] referring to the fact that we are never certain when the actions that we are watching are happening in relation to the others from the image alone. There are, in Marienbad the instances where X's voice recounts what we are seeing on the screen in the past tense, which appropriates the images a temporal relation. Despite this, however, the fact that we are not sure of the present during which X is saying these words (we do not see him start recounting the story and then see the images corresponding to the story) only serves to dislocate us further.
As for a syntagma associated with this kind of temporal relation, the most appropriate one according to Metz would be the autonomous shot and more specifically the subjective insert. I will discuss the subjective insert in greater depth later in the text, for now suffice it to say that the subjective insert ('image conveying not the present instance, but an absent moment experienced by the hero of the film. Ex: memory, dream, fear, premonition'[6]) is present throughout Marienbad. Most memorable ones are X and A's conversation by the bar (0'34'45") which is interrupted by the glass breaking/memory of A's white room (0'36'40") as well as the tracking shot through the corridors towards A's open arms multiple times (1'16'34"). What's important to note here, in both of these instances, is that while we are aware that the action in the 2 subjective inserts is not happening in the present time (the first is intercut with the conversation at the bar/glass breaking and the 2nd is accompanied by X's narration), we can't tell what time they are happening at for sure. They might both be memories of one of the protagonists, or they might not. They might be their fear that it happened or didn't happen the way they remember it or their unwillingness to remember it despite themselves.
Continuing on to the textual element of Marienbad we can begin by looking at the speech in the film. As observed previously, there is prominent narration throughout. Narration, unlike dialogue, can impose a meaning to the images, it can describe (in any tense not only the present tense) what is shown on the screen but it can also describe what is not seen. As Metz suggests, 'in order to get a better understanding of the talking cinema, one should study a certain type of "modern" film, particularly the work of the inseparable trio, Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, and Agnes Varda.'[7] Aside from the fact that Resnais regularly uses screenwriters that are already well established in the world of literature, the 'verbal, even openly "literary", element, is given great weight in the overall composition which is nevertheless more authentically "filmic" than ever.'[8] Simply put, in Resnais' film there is no compromise one way or the other. The 'authentically filmic' nature of the film is not sacrificed in favor of a more literary style, and vice versa - the literary nature is not compromised just because the film is 'filmic' (which I assume to mean of significance in the film-world as opposed to the literary world, in this case).
The reason why such a film should be studied, is because one would want to avoid a situation where the inferiority of one element (either the filmic or literary) would cancel the validity of the other. Having a film of great literary merit with not much 'filmic' merit would devalue it in the film-world, despite receiving acclaim in the literary-world, and vice versa. If we are to regard the literary values of a film, it is useful to look at a film that is strong on both counts. And indeed, such is L'Année dernière à Marienbad, where 'the image and text play a sort of game of hide-and-seek in which they give each other passing caresses. The sides are equal: Text becomes image, and image turns into text.' [9] While this might sound like one element is imposing itself on the other, nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather than imposing a literary quality on the image (thus invalidating or changing its significance) the text merges with the image and vice versa. What this results in is a perfect meld of both works of art - literary and filmic. It is this very nature that gives the work its very unique quality, as Metz states - 'the interplay of contexts gives the film its peculiar contexture'[10]
This contexture, however, requires a certain method in order to be achieved. When compared with other cinemas of the time, Metz refers to this cinema as a cinema of controlled diction characterized by a recitative approach. Comparing it to other cinemas of the time he makes the distinction between a 'cinema of passion' (Godard) and a cinema of premeditation and indirection (Resnais)[11]. This recitative approach is seen in Marienbad from the opening shot, with X's voice narrating over the images of the chateau's interior. This use of the off-screen voice is considered by Metz as a 'new form of aside' - a new way of communicating with the audience outside of the film that they are watching but coming from within it. Metz sees this new way as a 'revitalization of what used to be called "subjective images"'[12] which brings me to the final subject of this text, that is - the prominent syntagma in Marienbad, namely the 'subjective insert'.
I touched on the subject of the subjective insert syntagma briefly when discussing the notion of time in the film. Indeed, this type of syntagma is not only the most appropriate one for the temporal relation autonomous shots in Marienbad, but it is also the most prominent one in the film. When discussing its presence in films of the time, Metz states that 'its frequency has been doubly affected by modern cinematographic styles: With a Resnais…or a Fellini, it has multiplied, whereas in the films of the cinéma direct as well as in the fictional films influenced by the cinéma direct (those of Godard, for example), it has decreased'[13]. As previously discussed, the subjective insert appears at a relatively high frequency in Marienbad - but what does this frequency mean for the film. First and foremost, the subjective insert being an autonomous shot means that unlike the other types of syntagmas, it is composed of a single shot that constitutes a meaningful building block for the film (in contrast to the non-autonomous shots which are just parts of multi-shot autonomous segments).[14] While it is not impossible to convey meaning using a single shot, it is certainly more difficult to convey complex meanings, and one is restricted to a meaning focused on one single clear element (this of course does not apply to long shots à la Touch of Evil (1958) which would have more in common with a multi-shot autonomous segment despite technically being only one shot). The examples used previously have this same single-element quality to them - the glass smashes on the floor, A opens her arms in an embrace. While these are both meaningful to us they nevertheless have this very simple quality to them - we realize the glass smashed as a result of her bumping into the other woman at the bar, that she's opening her arms in an embrace, but we don't know more and we are never offered an explanation - they work by themselves as single mini-stories.
What is the effect of having more of these types of building blocks in a film than rather having more autonomous segments composed of many shots? Metz offers an explanation - he talks of this cinema that 'orders with meticulous patience a whole series of insistent, composed signs, not without making certain that their scrupulously unusual disposition will ensure a problematical and uncertain, although inevitably worked-at, deciphering;'[15] In short, having this kind of construction in a film gives it a problematic quality, one that requires deciphering, one that does not have an immediate meaning but rather one that asks the viewer to go beyond what's on the image or sound tracks to assign a meaning. It is a cinema that 'hesitates between ambiguity and riddle'[16] - it doesn't only require of the viewer to solve the riddle of meaning in the film, it also doesn't offer any sort of validation as to the accuracy of the solution - maybe the meaning-riddle's solution is the right one, but being of an ambiguous nature, it might also not be.
In this respect, what Resnais offers here is not so much the subjective insert (although one could read that into his film) but essentially a new type of syntagma - one that is potentially not documented by Metz and which doesn't necessarily follow one of his 8 possible autonomous segments. Similarly to his analysis of the Pierrot Le Fou (1965) sequence, where he identifies a passage 'that cannot be reduced to any one of [the 8 syntagmatic types] or to any variations'[17] of these types, one can see Marienbad as not directly employing the subjective insert but rather a modified, novel version of thereof. It is perhaps this novel type of syntagma that he was referring to when he was talking about the revitalization of subjective images[18].
To conclude, we have seen several aspects of Alain Resnais' L'Année dernière à Marienbad within the semiotic context. The first element was the time aspect and the whole notion of the tense (or lack thereof) in cinema. We have seen that despite the 'presentness of tense' in cinema, there is still an implied tense present in film in general and in Marienbad in particular. This tense is expressed using what, at first glance, seems to be the subjective insert syntagma. Following this, the textual nature of the film was taken into consideration - how does the text of the script interact with the filmic image and what meaning do they assign to each other? If anything, it gives the film a 'peculiar contexture' that is achieved through a recitative, that is to say narrated, nature and through a very controlled and premeditated cinema. Finally, we've seen that the temporal and textual elements give it a problematic and uncertain nature, albeit one that is intended and that is worked-at, encouraging ambiguity and difficulty in deciphering meaning. This quality of the film allows us to see that the uses of the subjective insert in the film are not so much the autonomous shot that Metz defined, but rather a new, perhaps yet undocumented, type of syntagma. It is in this inability to categorize, and apparently breakdown of Metz's theory that the film's greatest strength lies. This is not to say that it cannot be read according to the semiotic view, but the apparent difficulty in doing this and the problems that arise when attempting to do so are arguably the elements that give us the most insight into the film's nature.

[1] Metz, 1974, p187
[2] Leutrat, 2000, p52
[3] De Sousa, 1997, p611
[4] Robbe-Grillet, 1962, p12
[5] Metz, 1974, p200
[6] Metz, 1986, p46
[7] Metz, 1974, p55
[8] Metz, 1974, p55-56
[9] Metz, 1974, p56
[10] Metz, 1974, p56
[11] Metz, 1974, p199
[12] Metz, 1974, p220
[13] Metz, 1974, p180
[14] Metz, 1986, p46
[15] Metz, 1974, 200
[16] Metz, 1974, 200
[17] Metz, 1974, 217
[18] Metz, 1974, p220

Metz, C. (1974). Le cinéma moderne et la narrativité. Cahiers du Cinéma #185, 43-68,

republished in Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema. New York: Oxford University Press, p185-227

Leutrat, J-L. (2000). L'année dernière à Marienbad. London: BFI Pub
de Sousa, I.F. (1997). Cinema and literature: Theoretical studies. Semiotics around the world: synthesis in diversity: proceedings of the Fifth Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, Berkeley, 1994. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter, p611-614
Robbe-Grillet, A. (1961). L'année dernière à Marienbad. Paris: Éditions de Minuit
Metz, C (1986). Problems of denotation in Fiction Film. Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology. New York: Columbia University Press, p35-65
Resnais, A. (Director). (1961). L'Année dernière à Marienbad [Motion Picture]. France, Italy: Argos Films
Metz, C. (1974). Le cinéma: langue our langage? Communications #4, 52-90, republished in Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema. New York: Oxford University Press, p31-91
Metz, C. (1974). Étude syntagmatique du film Adieu Philippine,

de Jaques Rozier. Image et Son #201, 81-97, republished in Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema. New York: Oxford University Press, p177-182

Three Key Moments from Three Alain Resnais Films

Here are three of the 40-odd short pieces I wrote for Chris Fujiwara’s excellent, 800-page volume Defining Moments in Movies (London: Cassell, 2007), each of which describes an extraordinary scene from an Alain Resnais film involving camera movement. (There’s also a pretty amazing crane shot in Wild Grass, by the way.) — J.R.
1961 / Last Year at Marienbad - The camera rushes repeatedly through the doors of Delphine Seyrig’s bedroom and into her arms.
France/Italy. Director: Alain Resnais. Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi. Original title:L’année dernière à Marienbad.
Why It’s Key: A climax of erotic reverie in a film of erotic reveries.
Alain Resnais’ most radical departure from Alain Robbe-Grillet’s published screenplay for Last Year at Marienbad is his elimination of what Robbe-Grillet calls a “rather swift and brutal rape scene”. In this ravishing puzzle film about an unnamed man (Giorgio Albertazzi) in a swank, old-style hotel trying to persuade another guest (Delphine Seyrig), also unnamed, that they met and had sex there the previous year, illustrated throughout by subjective imaginings that might be either his or hers, Resnais includes only the beginning of such a scene when the man enters the woman’s bedroom and she moves back in fear. As in much of the film, Resnais makes the moment campy and melodramatic, as if dimly remembered from an old Hollywood movie. And it occurs 70-odd minutes into a 94-minute film.

While the man’s offscreen commentary insists, “No, no no! That’s wrong–it wasn’t by force…” Resnais retains only one of the scripted shots — “A long, deserted corridor down which the camera advances quite rapidly” in which “the lighting is strange: very weak on the whole, with certain lines and details violently emphasized”. But Resnais places this shot before rather than after the imagined physical contact. This weirdly overexposed, hallucinatory track ends with the camera turning down a separate corridor and then speeding repeatedly, in separate takes, into the welcoming arms of the woman, each time in a slightly different manner. An overheated sexual fantasy in a film chock full of erotic reveries, it marks a voluptuous climax to Resnais’ masterpiece about imagination and longing.
1974 / Stavisky... - When Anny Duperey suddenly turns her  head around while Charles Boyer is knocking on the door of her bedroom in Biarritz.
France. Director: Alain Resnais. Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo,
Charles Boyer, Anny Duperey.
Why It’s Key: An exquisite hommage to Ernst Lubitsch  suddenly dovetails into something more perturbing.
It’s part of a flashback early in Alain Resnais’ Stavisky…, when successful con-artist Serge Alexandre Stavisky (Jean-Paul Belmondo) steps into the back of a limo in 1933 Paris with the dapper Baron Raoul (Charles Boyer), asking his friend to tell him about the social “triumph” of Stavisky’s wife Arlette (Anny Duperey), whom the Baron has just seen in Biarritz. While assuring him it was magnificent and describing the lovely weather, we see the Baron approach a palatial resort hotel, walking to the strains of Stephen Sondheim’s first movie score.
This is clearly Resnais’ homage to Ernst Lubitsch, master of 30s glamour and elegance: after we see the Baron enter the hotel and take the elevator, there’s one of Lubitsch’s signature shots —- a crane moving horizontally across the building’s façade, charting the Baron’s progress through French windows in long shot as he crosses Arlette’s sumptuous suite, a flurry of crisscrossing maids marking his path until we see, through the last of the many windows, Arlette getting dressed in her bedroom. A closer, stationary shot shows him knocking at her door, and then —- in one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous, exquisitely-timed cuts in all of cinema —- Arlette in close-up suddenly turns and smiles in response to his knock. It’s a beautiful instant, yet one that carries a creepy foreboding, more Resnais than Lubitsch. And Serge’s concurrent dialogue with the Baron confirms this foreboding: “Nightmare, what nightmare?” —- asking the Baron about the troubling dream he reports that Arlette had.
1986 / Mélo - The camera movement circling the three major characters in the first act.
France. Director: Alain Resnais. Cast: Pierre Arditi,
Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier.
Why It’s Key: A flashback and flash-forward are both implicit in one sustained camera movement.
Is Resnais’ adaptation of Henry Bernstein’s 1929 melodrama filmed theater? Yes and no. A personal filmmaker who loves to hide behind his writers, Resnais always has secondary agendas up his sleeve. Here, during the first act of a play about a romantic triangle of classical musicians —- a married couple named Pierre and Romaine (Pierre Arditi and Sabine Azéma) and their friend Marcel (André Dussollier) —- the three are in a patio after dinner, and Marcel, seated across from his host and hostess, is explaining why he gave up hoping for a love of total trust. He recounts playing a Bach sonata in a concert years ago,  playing it especially for and to his mistress in the audience, and then discovering her exchanging glances with a stranger in the same audience, something she lied about afterwards.

Resnais films Marcel’s monologue in one take. A slow camera movement that begins behind the couple and ends on a closeup of Marcel subtly traces the adulterous story that will follow from his own viewpoint, through the onscreen groupings of characters: Marcel seen alongside the couple, then between them, then with Romaine, and finally alone. And the same camera movement conveys both of the flow of the Bach he’s playing and him scanning the audience looking for his mistress. In short, Resnais — a master of mixing tenses in his early features like Hiroshima mon amour and Last Year at Marienbad – is showing here how to convey the effects of flash-forwards and flashbacks without leaving the present.

Još od Resnaisa na YouTubeu:

Mon Oncle d'amerique, 1980 (film complet)

Je t'aime je t'aime (1968): 


Hiroshima mon amour:

Nuit et Brouillard (1955):


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