Directors 1: Alain Resnais

The Arts

Alain Resnais was born in 1922, and his latest film ‘Wild Grass’ has just opened to great reviews.

Outside of France, Resnais still retains the image of the haughty auteur he developed after ‘Last Year At Marienbad’ or ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’. But with over forty films to his credit he has hardly ever stopped working, and the range of film subjects he has covered is astonishing. Following a line through his career, one uniting strand emerges. He is fascinated by the use of artifice to define film’s truthfulness, and is willing to use any means, no matter how theatrical, to make his point. He is a keen Anglophile, and is interested in finding frameworks to explain ideas.

‘Last Year At Marienbad’ and ‘Life Is A Bed Of Roses’ both unfold like waking dreams. Resnais is a great admirer of Scarborough playwright Alan Ayckbourn (A Scarborough teatowel hangs in the kitchen in ‘On Connait La Chanson’). Ayckbourn is the last person you’d ever suspect of harbouring surrealist instincts until you realise that several of his recent London plays have involved malfunctioning robots. The idea of the blue-rinse brigade trotting along to plays about futuristic communication breakdown proves that they can be weaned away from Francis Durbridge thrillers if the right wolves get into sheep’s clothing.

Clearly, Resnais recognises something we fail to see about ourselves. In ‘On Connait La Chanson’ (1997), he uses Dennis Potter’s device of breaking into brief snatches of popular song in order to explain feelings. More overlooked in this film is his use of animal imagery to suggest emotions, so that when Odile Lalande sees something that revolts her, we catch a brief glimpse of a pulsating octopus, and shots of marine animals are used to suggest the movements of guests circulating at a party.

‘Last Year At Marienbad’ creates a peculiarly hypnotic sense of dislocation as guests wander around a spa trying to recall an affair that may or may not have occurred. Architecture, spaces and silences play a great part in defining mood here, as they do in ‘Life is A Bed Of Roses’ (1983), which is set in one location during three separate time periods. A Utopian society attempts to create a better world in a beautiful chateau, while, more than sixty years later, the same chateau is being used by an alternative education class searching for the meaning of happiness. At the same time, children on their school break imagine the chateau to be their dream play-house. Only one group comes close to discovering a truly Utopian state, and it’s not the adults. Resnais’ heroes have no nationality; they are simply human. He remains a fascinating director in his eighties.

One comment on “Directors 1: Alain Resnais”

  1. Shuku says:

    I had to study Resnais in film school, and I have to admit – I did enjoy his work better than a lot of other things I had to watch. I had no idea he was still alive, however! But this is a wonderful thing – fascinating directors who are willing to explore different themes are few and far between these days.

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