Alain Resnais lowers the microphone into the frame a la Welles, a searchlight comes to life -- the Bibliothèque Nationale, out of Borges and Kafka, the camera glides around it for 20 minutes. The dome outside is surrounded by arches and pointed rafters, inside is every book printed in France, stacked in piles, guarded by statues, and wheeled around by "paper-crunching insects." Volumes are followed from the bulging bags brought in daily to the sorting assembly line, where they're identified, indexed, stored along millions of others in the catalog and finally imprinted on microfilm. Manuscripts by Pascal and Zola receive privileged close-ups, a canvas by de Chirico and vintage medals are also part of the treasure trove; a leaning tower of periodicals reveals a Mandrake comic-book at the very top (cf. Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451). "Who knows what will be the most reliable testament of our civilization?" The library is "a museum," a fortress, "Captain Nemo’s control room," a labyrinth, a penitentiary (words are "imprisoned" for the sake of Man’s short memory, "once labeled, the book cannot escape"). For Resnais, it is also an island of recorded stillness in a shifting world. People are dwarfed by the information, yet the information only comes alive once it passes "through the looking glass" into the hands and minds of readers. The style of Last Year at Marienbad is already formed, echoes are felt in All the President’s Men, Zardoz, The Serpent’s Egg, Brazil... Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet. Music by Maurice Jarre. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce