Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais / France-Italy, 1961):
(L'année dernière à Marienbad)

Orpheus by way of M.C. Escher, or the Dance of the Sphinxes. Salons and chandeliers, heavy carpets and checkerboard floors, corridors into corridors comprise the "ornamentation of a bygone era," the prowling camera takes stock until it locates the zombified swells in the dark—a mirror held up to its audience of chic codebreakers? The Möbius strip is built extensively out of La Règle du jeu, the fracturing eye takes the form of a baroque chateau in which a possible liaison possibly unfolds. "Haven't we met before?" The matinee idol (Giorgio Albertazzi) insists on a past affair with the clothes horse (Delphine Seyrig) while her quasi-beau (Sacha Pitoëff) skulks dutifully, just a familiar little triangle to set off the bewildering shapes all around. Memories dreamed up or reveries recalled, the Alain Resnais domain from an Alain Robbe-Grillet design, a gleaming cryptogram. "Signs everywhere," shooting galleries and unwinnable games of cards and matchsticks hold sway though the divertissement of choice is the continuous rearrangement of planes of artifice. A couple's indiscretion in the mirrored boudoir is a metafiction retold over and over, melodrama is distilled to its frozen poses, liturgical pipes and liturgical pensées orchestrate romance's sprawls and flickers. "Or maybe it was an allegory, something like that." Lubitsch's tuxedos and Valéry's columns, "an impossible climate," a panning glimpse of statuary out of Rossellini registers the formal garden in the background and suddenly you have Magritte's La condition humaine. It might be a night in the labyrinth or perhaps the instant it takes for a glass to shatter (cf. Cocteau's crumbling chimney in Le Sang d'un Poète), the trance is sustained but for the scream or burst of sunlight that pierces it. Cinema as voluptuous mausoleum—not a hermetic object but a choreographed flow, venture down its hallways and find Seyrig in her feathered gown, grinning with open arms. "It's not true that we need absence, loneliness, endless waiting!" For Losey a brief encounter (Accident), for Kubrick a horror fable (The Shining), for Ruiz a magic lantern (Time Regained). Cinematography by Sacha Vierny. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home