Last Year at Marienbad
L’année dernière à Marienbad
1961, 94 min., B&W, 35mm projection source
Not just a defining work of the French New Wave but one of the great, lasting mysteries of modern art, Alain Resnais’ epochal “Last Year at Marienbad” has been puzzling appreciative viewers for decades. Written by Alain Robbe-Grillet, the radical master of the Nouveau Roman (New Novel), this surreal fever dream, or nightmare, gorgeously fuses the past with the present. The film tells the deliberately ambiguous story of a man and a woman (Giorgio Albertazzi and Delphine Seyrig) who may or may not have met a year ago, perhaps at the very same cathedral-like, mirror-filled château they now find themselves wandering. Unforgettable in both its confounding details (gilded ceilings, diabolical parlor games, a loaded gun) and haunting scope, Resnais’ investigation into the nature of memory is simultaneously disturbing and romantic.
The Village Voice’s J. Hoberman describes “Marienbad” as “a sustained mood, an empty allegory, a choreographed moment outside of time, and a shocking intimation of perfection.” Responding to the film’s formidable reputation, the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum laments: “It’s too bad ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ was the most fashionable art-house movie of 1961-’62, because as a result it’s been maligned and misunderstood ever since. The chic allure of Alain Resnais’ second feature — a maddening, scintillating puzzle set in glitzy surroundings — produced a backlash, and one reason its defenders and detractors tend to be equally misguided is that both respond to the controversy rather than to the film itself. ‘I am now quite prepared to claim that “Marienbad” is the greatest film ever made, and to pity those who cannot see this,’ proclaimed one French critic, even as others ridiculed what they perceived as the film's pretentious solemnity — overlooking or missing its playful, if poker-faced, use of parody as well as its outright scariness.”