Hiroshima, Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)

Filmed 14 years after an Atomic bomb was dropped by the USA onto Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki, murdering millions and leaving devastating and lasting effects on the country, Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour is an artistic and abstract visualisation of the event’s consequences. Elle (Emmanuelle Riva), a French actress starring in a film about peace, and Lui (Eiji Okada), a Hiroshima-local, indulge in an affair as they divulge their memories and perspectives of war to each other. It is a testimony of tragedy, of an event so catastrophic that it can’t be contained by the simple love-story shared between the two, of the lost love in Elle’s hometown in Neveres, and of Lui’s family taken by the bomb.

The opening sequence epitomises the entire film, as abstract New Wave-esque close-ups of Elle and Lui, unidentifiable, are intercut with scenes of Hiroshima’s destruction. Immediately the audience is introduced to the point of this film as from the outset there are comparisons of love and sensuality against the consequences of war. The two bodies are shown to be covered in a heavy layer of dust, and between the pictures of Hiroshima it visually represents the impact that the bomb had on the two characters. The narration over this first sequence seems to go on for a long time, as do the other large scenes of dialogue coupled with masses of images, as Elle describes what she knows about the atomic bombs devastation in Lui’s home city. Her words are spoken softly over a series of documentary-style footage, echoing the original genre of Hiroshima, Mon Amour as Resnais was initially to make an actual documentary on the bombing. Everything Elle knows, however, is magazine-level knowledge, but she speaks about it as if she were there; in-between her descriptions Lui tells her she has ‘seen nothing’. Despite the connection the two characters have and hold throughout the film, the differences between their experiences and lives are made clear. These differences are explored through the narrative structure as an abstract representation of reality and memory. Later in the film, as Elle is overcome with her memories of her German lover who died in the war, she tells Lui as if he were the German soldier. The entire film visually and emotionally pushes and pulls two qualities together, in its own filmic way of representing the reality of Hiroshima; the aftermath it caused, war as a whole, two countries and two people and multiple stories that entwine and clash and then overlap to become one whole thing. Resnais created a poignant film about a large-scale catastrophe, portrayed through seemingly simple love affair, tragic in its own right.

The temporal and spacial structure of Hiroshima, Mon Amour, contributes to the impact and unique nature of the film. The two characters appear to fight with memories shaped by the bombing and the war, elevating the narrative further than just informing the audience of the horror of the atomic bomb dropped onto Hiroshima portrayed through something easily misunderstood as a trivial love story. Quick cuts of displaced perspectives, such as Elle watching the sleeping Lui who suddenly turns into the injured solider who we later learn is her dead lover from Neveres, creates the fractured mindset that the characters have been put into by the war. In this example, it is Elle who unwillingly sees the similarities between the body of the Japanese man she has affectionately spent the night with, and a German solider wounded by battle who she was deeply in love with. On the surface, this intrusive flashback could be interpreted as just a woman who misses her old boyfriend, but the entire narrative structure of confused memories and interwoven characters shifts this from a simple tale, to a more conscientious and clever story of human beings pulled away from each other by a man-made catastrophe that they did not start.

I chose to write a review on a much older film that I have previously done as the reality of war is contemporaneous. To signify this reality through a taboo relationship as is shown between a French woman and a German soldier, and the same French woman with a Japanese man, all within the context and timeframe of a war which separated nations, a subject for discussion is created – both within the film as a piece of work made 14 years after the Hiroshima bombing, and then another 60 years on for audiences now. The New Wave-esque narrative structure and editing style is interesting in more ways than the superficial aspects it brings to Hiroshima, Mon Amour, in that it is not just the visual elements of this film that made it – and still make it – compelling to watch. It is the subject matter of war and contempt and destruction from country and nation onto another that still continues on in the present that keeps Resnais’s story relevant, especially performed through the lens of the universally recognised concept of a love that won’t last, as if it were Romeo and Juliet affected the Atomic Bomb.


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