I just learned that Criterion is releasing one of my favorite films, Last Year at Marienbad at the end of June. I am excited as a person can be about this news since the movie has not been in circulation for years. I once owned a wobbly vhs copy and used to bore my friends with screenings of it (I probably lost a few of them in the process...). "Wasn't that great!" I would ask eagerly to a room full of snoring guests.
This is one of the most soporific films of all times. But I love it for that. If you resolve yourself to pay close attention, it is absolutely hypnotic—in the way that staring at a long lonely stretch of highway can be while driving at night. I love these sorts of movies, like 8 1/2 and Juliet of the Spirits, that lull you into a near dream state in which you stop trying to make sense of it all.
Making it even more irresistable, Alain Resnais' 1961 movie is an homage to the formal garden as it was originally intended, as a setting for romantic assignation and secret dalliances. The plot, devised by a reputed master of repetition, novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, winds in a and around itself through a maze of blind leads and false starts. Those viewers who get hung up on plot will be baffled if not completely irritated as the two nameless main characters of the movie engage and disengage in highly art directed vignettes that morph and repeat like a pattern in a classic French parterre. Even the shadows are painted on the gravel in the garden scene at the top of this post. Je l'adore!
Watch a preview of it here.
Read an interesting essay by Kathleen Murphy on Last Year at Marienbad here. She aptly sums of the sort of art house film experience found during the Sixties by saying, "We happily drowned, not in narrative alone--or even at all--but in the seductive images, spaces and faces conjured by the formidable magic of the medium."
"Marienbad's freeze-dried garden, with its rigidly geometric design, topiary perfection, tricky shadows and endlessly receding perspective, cannot serve as outdoors. Nature is just another occasion for trompe-l'oeil, blocking one more avenue for enlightenment."—Kathleen Murphy, Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad.
The beautiful French actress Delphine Seyrig strikes languorous poses in gowns by Coco Chanel as she is ardently pursued by the suave if persistent Giorgio Albertazzi. Again and again, he tries to convince her that they had a love affair at the grand hotel last year. She replies "non" or "laissez-moi" and gazes at an imaginary horizon.
The film's exterior scenes were shot at two gardens near Munich. The Nymphenburg Palace parterre was designed in the early 18th century by Dominique Girard, a pupil of Le Nôtre. He also designed the other garden used as a location at Schleissheim Palace.