Hiroshima mon amour (France-Japan, 1959)

Post-war existential angst

Post-war existential angst

I guess there is still a ‘canon’ of ‘great’ films that all cinephiles should see and in these days of DVD plenitude there are few of them that are not available. Canons are elitist and, to an extent, discredited (particularly in literature where, in the west, it is/was based on white, male writers) but are useful for those wanting to get a guide on what films from the past should be watched. (Incidentally the ‘key films’ pages on this blog are not necessarily canonic, but are significant in some way either stylistically or commercially).

One of the excitements of youth is being presented with a massive amount of (potentially) great films to watch. As you get older, and have spent many years ploughing through the canon, there are fewer ‘classics’ left. Hiroshima mon amour is one ‘great’ film I hadn’t seen.

I love Alain Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad (1961) but after a terrific 20 minutes (beautiful abstract images of the entwined naked bodies of the protagonists) I got irritated. Coincidentally in yesterday’s The Guardian Joe Queenan lists it as one of the great films of the French ‘new wave’ so who’s wrong? Certainly it’s a ‘key film’, Resnais’ roving camera and abstruse voice over, are very distinctive however… The film starts investigating, in horrific style, the effects of the Hiroshima bomb but then its focus switches to Elle and her treatment in small-town France after she fell in love with an occupying German soldier. What happened to her is undoubtedly tragic however is virtually meaningless in comparison with the A-bomb’s effects so appears self-indulgent; maybe the narrative trajectory should have been the other way around and so the character might learn her travailles are meaningless compared to what happened to the Japanese. Ultimately the film comes over as indulgent and dated existential angst.

That was disappointing.