Tuesday, February 07, 2012


This stunning looking black & white movie opens with long lovely tracking shots of the ceilings and walls and ornamentation of an elegant, sprawling, palatial hotel as a man’s spoken narrative (along the lines of “I walk on, down these corridors, in this hotel, corridor after endless corridor…”) is repeated five times. Eventually we see an audience of well-dressed, wealthy people gathered in a hotel auditorium watching a play (to which the narration may or may not belong). We hear snatches of conversation, people walking about and sometimes freezing in place. A plot seems to be introduced: Giorgio Albertazzi approaches the lovely but distant Delphine Seyrig (pictured below) and mentions having met her last year at a similar hotel in Frederiksbad or Marienbad or somewhere, and engaging in an affair with her. She claims not to remember, then does, then doesn’t. He spins different versions of their meeting and we eventually see what might be flashbacks (or fantasies or alternate timelines). We also meet Sascha Pitoeff, a gaunt man in a dark suit, apparently the woman’s husband, who figures in some of the flashbacks. There may have been a rape, or a violent attack by Pitoeff, or no contact at all. Albertazzi and Seyrig wander around the hotel grounds and its starkly beautiful gardens with perfectly triangular hedges and large marble statues. Often the dialogue or narration does not match up with what’s happening on screen. In the end, Seyrig agrees to go off with Albertazzi, but they simply blend in with the crowd in the garden (as in The Prisoner, perhaps, no one gets out of the Village).

This is indeed beautiful to behold: the stark sets, the slow tracking and swirling of the camera, the beautiful but empty people posing against beautiful but empty backgrounds—if you’ve seen Calvin Klein ads from the past 20 years, or in fact any number of high fashion ad campaigns, you’ve seen something influenced by this film, directed by Alain Resnais and written by French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet. In its time, the movie was controversial, mostly met with disdain by filmgoers not used to fragmented and inconclusive narratives (though readers of Virginia Woolf or James Joyce or Gertrude Stein would not have been quite so confused). Now, with Kubrick’s languorous pacing, David Lynch’s ambiguous and dreamlike stylings, and even the alternate narratives of TV’s Lost, current-day viewers won’t be caught quite so off-guard. Still, it’s not for everyone’s taste. The only excitement here is mental. If you can put up with a movie that plays out like a game with few rules and no conclusion, this might be for you. And if you can’t, then just turn the sound off and enjoy the absolutely gorgeous camerawork. [DVD]

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