Alain Resnais (3 June 1922 – 1 March 2014)
The career of Alain Resnais, which spanned over six decades, was a tribute to his ability to take complex notions of time and memory and make intricate, yet accessible movies around those same notions. Watching Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961) – two of his most well-known movies – one is immediately struck by the way he bends narrative strands to sometimes hallucinatory effect.
Resnais was working in film long before then, though, making short features and documentaries (two of which are now believed lost). He was also an editor, only leaving that aspect of filmmaking behind when he became a director. His breakthrough was the quietly devastating Holocaust documentary Night and Fog (1955). Shot in black and white and letting the graphic images speak for themselves, Night and Fog is still a difficult watch even today.
In the Sixties, he was linked to the French New Wave but didn’t regard his work as part of that movement, preferring to work with authors such as Marguerite Duras and Jacques Sternberg, and refine his aptitude for movies about the passing of time and our relationship to it. He could be both stringent and playful, and always thought-provoking. Although his later projects didn’t achieve the kind of box office results his first few features did, they were still critically well-received, even when he moved towards making movies that explored the relation between cinema and other cultural forms such as music and theatre. His last movie, Life of Riley, an adaptation of a play by Alan Ayckbourn, will be released later this month.
A true original, with a distinct cinematic aesthetic, Resnais will be sorely missed. And here are ten reasons why.
1 – Night and Fog (1955)
2 – Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
3 – Last Year in Marienbad (1961)
4 – Muriel, or the Time of Return (1963)
5 – Je t’aime je t’aime (1968)
6 – Providence (1977)
7 – My American Uncle (1980)
8 – Love Unto Death (1984)
9 – Smoking/No Smoking (1993)
10 – Private Fears in Public Places (2006)