Cinematic Heaven: Last Year at Marienbad

L’Année Derniere A Marienbad | Alain Resnais, 1961

We have seen many times movies about a man and a woman who meet and fall in love, but one of them in married, therefore making things harder for them to find happiness. And whenever one of them pops up, I always hope that they will bring so mething new to the table. Maybe a different visual style a different setting, or something. Yet, time after time I sit and watch a generic love story, the only thing that changes from time to time is how the story concludes. Last Year at Marienbad follows a similar story, but the end result is among one of the most unique movies I have ever seen.

In Marienbad, a man (Giorgio Albertazzi) and a woman (Delphine Seyrig) meet in a hotel. He says that they met a year ago, but she says she doesn’t know what he is talking about. As the movie progresses, he continues to tell the story of the time they spent a year ago, in incredible detail. Little by little we see her breaking down and starting to think that she know what he is saying, but is she just being persuaded by the man?

The structure of the story is unlike any I’ve seen when dealing with this story. There is a lot of repetition, in scenes and in dialogue. When the man is telling the story, we see it being played out as if he was sort of directing it, and getting mad when things do not go his way. We see the same scene from different angles and with different details. It should have been a mess of a movie, but it works thanks to Resnais direction and the work of his editor.

Resnais and the writer, Alain Robbe-Grillet, intended for the movie to be like this, otherwise it would have been of Ed Wood quality. The editing is what makes it work. This is, I thing, the only time where I would call editing “exquisite.” It seriously feels much shorter than 94 minutes, yet so much information is thrown at us, and nothing feels out of place. I thought it was going to be boring (like The Exterminating Angel), but it wasn’t I was completely drawn into what was going on, and the editing and the direction are the main reasons for this.

I also must single out the music, the cinematography and the performances. The bombastic music is so beautiful, and it plays perfectly well with the movie. The cinematography is gorgeous. Some people would say that about every Black & White movie, but this has a different feel to it. And the performances are fantastic. Albertazzi and Seyrig are the only ones who do anything, but they are so great in all of their scenes.

I was surprised by how much I liked Last Year at Marienbad. The atmosphere drew me in, and when it was over my mind was blown. Very few movies have done that, so that puts this among one of my favorite movies of all time.


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