Saturday, March 15, 2014

Godspeed Alain Resnais

Legendary French filmmaker Alain Resnais died on 1 March 2014 at the age of 91.

Alain Resnais was born on 3 June 1922 in Vannes, Morbihan, Brittany, France. As a child he was a voracious reader, reading everything from classic literature to comic strips (a particular favourite being Milton Caniff's Terry & the Pirates). As a boy he also developed an interest in the cinema. For his twelfth birthday he was given an 8mm film camera, with which he began to make his own movies. He was only 14 when he made his first film, L’Aventure de Guy (which is sadly lost). When he was 17 he went to Paris with the intent of becoming an actor. He studied acting at the Cours René-Simon. When L’Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques, France's first film school, was founded in 1943, Mr. Resnais enrolled there. He became part of the school's first graduating class.

It was in 1946 that he directed his first feature film as an adult, Ouvert pour cause d'inventaire. It was in the Fifties that Alain Resnais hit his stride, making such films as the documentary "Nuit et brouillard" (1955--"Night and Fog") and the Oscar nominated Hiroshima Mon Amour. He would see more success in the Sixties with such films as L'année dernière à Marienbad (1961--Last Year at Marienbad), Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour (1963--Muriel, or The Time of Return), and Je t’Aime Je t’Aime (1968). Over the years he would make several more remarkable films, including Stavisky (1974), Providence (1977), Mon oncle d'Amérique (1980), La vie est un roman (1983),  I Want to Go Home (1989), and Smoking/No Smoking (1993).

Among French filmmakers of his generation, Alain Resnais was unique. While Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut looked to American and British films for inspiration, Alain Resnais took inspiration. Indeed, in many respects his films could be considered the cinematic equivalent of the literary nouveau roman movement. Indeed, Mr. Resnais worked with noveau roman writers Marguerite Duras (who wrote the screenplay for Hiroshima Mon Amour) and Alain Robbe-Grillet (who wrote the screenplay for L'année dernière à Marienbad).

Of course, arguably contemporary director Éric Rohmer was also inspired by literature. What set Alain Resnais apart from Mr. Rohmer is that while Mr. Rohmer's films were often fairly straightforward, Mr. Resnais' films often were not. In the hands of Alan Resnais time and memory were malleable things. Not only were flashbacks a feature of many of his films, but so were what can only be described as "flashfowards"--scenes set in the future. At the same time Alain Resnais' films were often touched by imagination, fantasy, and outright surrealism. In many ways his films were much more about the subjective reality experienced by human beings within their own heads than any sort of objective reality.

There should be little wonder why Alain Resnais was a legendary filmmaker. He was a director of great skill who was not afraid to experiment. What is more, he was very versatile. He could make everything from documentaries (Night and Fog remains one of the greatest documentaries of all time) to comedies (I Want to Go Home, with a script by cartoonist Jules Feiffer). What is more, he was entirely singular as a director. No one made movies like Alain Resnais.

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