The Inconsolable, Insoluble Memory of Alain Resnais (June 3, 1922 – March 1, 2014)

978-0-8223-5271-6_prA guest post by Carol Mavor, author of Black and Blue: The Bruising Passion of Camera Lucida, La Jetée, Sans soleil and Hiroshima mon amour (2012).


Alain Resnais has died, has vanished from the earth. The French filmmaker is known for his documentaries (including his 1955 Night and Fog on Nazi concentration camps) and feature films (including his 1959 Hiroshima mon amour, a film about making a film about Hiroshima, which is also a love story).  Resnais has died on the heels of his friend and sometimes film collaborator Chris Marker (July 29, 1921-July 30, 2012). Resnias's documentary film All the Memory of the World (1956), which turns the pages of memory as collected in the Bibliothèque Nationale, received assistance from Marker. All the Memory of the World follows a book, like the life of a man, like the telling of a story, from A to B: from its arrival at the great library, to its imprisonment on the shelf, to its release when checked out.

Resnais received a movie camera from his parents for his twelfth birthday and discovered Marcel Proust when he was fourteen: with these tools in hand, he would spend a lifetime making work on not forgetting. What does it mean to forget? As Harald Weinrich has written in his fine Lethe: The Art and Critique of Forgetting (1997): "The verb 'forget' is composed of the verb 'get' and the prefix 'for'. The prefix converts the movement toward implicit in 'get' into a movement away, so that one might paraphrase the meaning of 'forget' as 'to get rid (of something)."

Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour (with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras) is a devastatingly beautiful film of skin, pleasure, pain and never forgetting. As I write in Black and Blue:

The opening scene of Hiroshima mon amour is a scene of skin as both pleasure and pain. As Goethe writes of Pompeii in his Italian Journey:  “There have been many disasters in this world, but few which have given so much delight to posterity, and I have seldom seen anything so interest opening, which, when watched, has the curious effect of slowness. Hiroshima mon amour is a double circle, taking place over a period of twenty- four hours: it is the clock going round to twelve o’clock once, and then round again to twelve o’clock one more time. The film moves round and round through one day and one night. As Jacques Rivette has noted: “At the end of the last reel you can easily move back to the first, and so on . . . It is an idea of the infinite but contained within a very short interval, since ultimately the ‘time’ of Hiroshima can just as well last twenty- four hours as one second." Hiroshima mon amour is ostensibly the story of a love affair between a Japanese architect (or engineer), who lives in Hiroshima, and a French actress, who lives in Nevers, France. The actress has come to Hiroshima to star in a film about peace. (Just as Proust’s Recherche is a novel about writing a novel, Hiroshima mon amour is a film about making a film.) Never do we get the Japanese architect’s actual name. Never do we get the French actress’s actual name. He is just lui from Hiroshima. She is just elle from Nevers. “The time is summer, 1957—August.” Resnais chose the setting of Nevers because he liked the sound of the name, which, of course, has a special, if foreboding, resonance in English. (Black and Blue, pages 117-118)




places for the fingers and eyes to slip into, as if the body were nothing more, nothing less, than a lavishly photographed, sexual/erotic bell pepper, seashell, cabbage, artichoke, or mushroom

I will never forget Resnais. I have an inconsolable memory of Resnais. My memory is circular, refuses to go from A to B, will not be imprisoned or checked out. My memory of Resnais remains insoluble, untouched by Lethe: the twisting stream of forgetfulness.  My memory is as round and as warm and as insoluble as the marble, hot with summer, that rolls into the dark cellar that imprisons the captured woman (ELLE), who comes from Nevers (France). 

In Gaston Bachelard’s famed work The Poetics of Space, we learn that “images of full roundness help us to collect ourselves, permit us to confer an initial constitution on ourselves, and to confirm our being intimately inside . . . being cannot be otherwise than round.” It is the earth, the pregnant belly, the nest, the pupil of the eye, the open mouth, the circle of time. In a round cry of the round, Bachelard echoes that roundness is “like a walnut that becomes round in its shell.” The marble, then, in the hands and eyes of Bachelard’s poetics, becomes the image of life itself. As Duras writes about the marble in Hiroshima mon amour: “So much roundness, so much perfection, posed an insoluble problem.” The marble rolls on. The marble resists. It carries summer past, present, and future. (Black and Blue, pages 131-132)


Her head mirrors the heads of those left bald by the bomb's atomic radiation, the shaven heads of concentration camps, the smooth head of Joan of Arc (who is from a town not far from Nevers): mirroring the world, the marble, the circularity of the non-linear story of Hiroshima mon amour

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