Last Year In Marienbad


Reviewed by: Chris

Last Year In Marienbad
"There are so many ‘solutions’ to the enigma of the plot that analysing it or watching it repeatedly is more fun than the first viewing." | Photo: Studiocanal

A classic of surrealist cinema is well-presented in this digitally restored and re-mastered DVD. Resnais’ most famous work, alongside Hiroshima Mon Amour, it provides an eternally mesmerising puzzle in which there are so many avenues and variations that the fun is in the choosing.

The nominal, very formalist story is as follows: A man (whose name we never learn, but who is called ‘X’ in the screenplay) is convinced he has had an affair with a woman (named ‘A’) the year before. She denies this and he tries to convince her. The plot is played out repeatedly with different variations. The two main players’ stories are always at variance. Time is made meaningless. The conversation takes place in an elite chateau where there is a social gathering and a play is also being performed. A third man is possibly the woman’s husband. There are so many ‘solutions’ to the enigma of the plot that analysing it or watching it repeatedly is more fun than the first viewing, when it can seem tediously stilted and unreal. As the viewer becomes aware of the puzzles, more and more details become fascinatingly seductive in the search for the ‘truth’.

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The visual elements – long corridors, elegant rooms, gardens laid out with mathematical precision – are frequently taken in with long, majestic tracking shots. It can almost feel like we are watching the working of a machine, with human mechanisms, more than a living tableau.

Further puzzles appear in the shape of a mathematical game offered as a challenge to the guests, and interpretations based on the similarities of an established play, part of which is glimpsed. Any study of Last Year In Marienbad rapidly becomes a learned discourse, so it is a great boon that an introduction outlining some of the main theories is included on the disc (even the director and the writer disagreed on the final ‘meaning’), as well as a background documentary that tells the remarkable development of a film that was largely shunned by the public until it won a major award and critical acclaim from influential figures in the cinema of the day.

With audiences today far more open to experimental film, the re-release is a collector’s item to watch, watch again, and argue over. If you had the patience to wade through films like Dogville and Manderlay, if your brain cells were only mildly tweaked in working out Mulholland Drive, or if you are a fan of such classics as Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel, then Last Year In Marienbad may give you something to get your teeth into for years to come.

That, of course, may not deter you from deciding it is pretentious piffle.

Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2007
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A man tries to convince a woman that they had an affair the year before.
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Director: Alain Resnais

Writer: Alain Robbe-Grillet

Starring: Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoëff, Françoise Bertin, Luce Garcia-Ville, Héléna Kornel, François Spira, Karin Toche-Mittler, Pierre Barbaud, Wilhelm von Deek, Jean Lanier

Year: 1961

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: France, Italy


Venice 2018

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