Saturday, September 7, 2019

LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (Alain Resnais, 1961, France)

Restless spirits rendezvous, victims haunting a grand manor that looms above them like Hill House, ghosts lost amid a maze of elliptical memories and infinite corridors. The protagonist is frozen outside of time, tortured like the prisoners of Dante’s ninth circle of Hell, his emotions icily detached from any human concerns except traitorous desire. The others who stalk the carpeted hallways, their footsteps and tremulous whispers absorbed by this mortuary that swallows the last vestiges of their humanity, seem to dress in the funeral attire of the upper class. The musical score is a dirge that is often antithetical to the visual montage; beautiful art-deco adorations of the nouveau riche contrast this sullen march towards perdition. The inhabitants cast long shadows that seem to stalk them; ghastly creatures that have consumed their souls…or possibly these shadows cast them?

The nameless protagonist pursues his lover throughout the endless passages, his voice-over narration opposing the film’s reality, as if he is trying to convince himself that by repeating this mantra he can change his past, present, or future. Burdened by guilt of rape and murder, his victim dressed as a feathery angel, he is startled and falls from the crumbling balcony. In one great match cut, the jilted lover turns and aims his gun at a target then Resnais cuts to the woman gliding gently down the hall, implying that she is the object of his violence. The “husband” seems to be the grand tormentor, always winning at Nim and holding power over his prisoner, as the Devil incarnate. When the final game is lost, the protagonist makes the sign of the cross with the game-tiles, as if to drive away the consuming evil.

Director Alain Resnais has crafted a mysterious film that demands the viewer to imprint his own psyche upon this celluloid canvas. The gorgeous deep focus black and white cinematography lets focal points disappear into dark mirrors and long passageways, while the slow tracking shots remain obtuse and disembodied. Though many people seem trapped in this immaculately kept netherworld, they are spiritually isolated…and whoever walks there, walks alone.