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Movie Review:Hiroshima Mon Amour

Updated on April 1, 2015

Hiroshima mon amour is a 1959 film directed by Alain Resnas with screenplay by Duras Marguerite. The film is a documentation of a powerfully personal conversation between two people, a French woman and a Japanese man, concerning forgetfulness and memory. In essence, the film appears to be a catalyst for the French new wave, as it makes an exceedingly inventive use of minuscule flashbacks for the purpose of creating a distinctively nonlinear story.

The first 15 minutes of the film makes the most daring sequences in the history of cinema. It astoundingly combines documentary demo of the aftermath of the atomic annihilation of Hiroshima in the U.S in 1945 with vastly-charged voice over unfolding and swift cuts to an extramarital, interracial affair between a Japanese architect and a French actress. Having been voted for academic award for Dura Marguerites screenplay, and for Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or, the film marks a turning point in the history of Cinema as a docudrama, which casts a remarkably long shadow. Hiroshima is apprehensive of the past, in both its world war two reflections and it is overdue in the referencing of the most tenderly memorized WWII show, Casablanca[1]. However it seems to also predict the future, both its use of prolonged conversation and jump cuts that seemingly predicts “Breathless”, Jean-Lucs productions. This movie is far from a mere academic bit of film school obligatory viewing. It can be said to be insistently cut from history’s cloth. As long as the aspect of war continues to be exant, these wars will create casualties. Consequently, this film will continue to be unavoidably, and sadly relevant in the modern day perspective. The subsequent part is an analysis of the movie through different perspectives.

Traumatic Memory

Traumatic memory and the role it plays in reconstructing history is very central in the film. This is mostly presented in involuntary memory, meaning something which comes from the unsolicited past to completely unsettle an individual in the present. In particular, Hiroshima Mon Amour tends to employ this artistic use of memory, but with the (historical and personal) past scorching into the present. The movie, Hiroshima shows how the past and history are always seen through present eyes; and likewise, historical writing in form of a narrative is wrought history itself, language imperfections, and memory. The theme of history and memory, as utilized by Nouvelle Vague, relates to a theoretical and interesting question concerning politics and arts. Is the formal complexity of Noville Vague a form of engaged resistance or a visual escape from political reality? Or is it more interested in what we know than how we know (epistemology)? Towards the end of the film these two central characters, plainly referred to as woman and man acknowledge the inability to comprehend fully both historical and personal tragedy, when they basically identify one another by the names of the cities that form the basis of the historical (Hiroshima) and personal (never) tragedies. Towards the end of the brief one-day affair, both the man and the woman comprehend very little regarding each other as well as the presupposed tragedies.

This is a clear indication that both of these characters have in a way lost their traumatic memories. However, there exists a certain irony particularly in regard to clinical and precise use of form, stark, monolithic tracking shots, calculating compositions and graphic edits used by Resnais remains unable to offer meaning to or liberation from the memory of the human tragedies. The love affair is primarily also important for the memory chain it triggers, since the woman discloses her first love story in a gradual manner, a story, which she has never before told to anyone.

In essence, the relationship between the Japanese woman and the German solder stirs not only the memory of Hiroshima fiasco but also the traumatic aspects of the two characters. In this film, the author has placed much emphasis on the subject of memory and its place in reconstruction history. In particular, Hiroshima Mon Amour has effectively employed aesthetic use of memory where personal and historical aspects harbor a bearing in the current contexts.

Toward the film’s end, the two main characters who are simply identified as man and woman acknowledges their incapacity to understand the historical and personal tragedy. For instance, rather than identifying each other through actual names, they employ the name of two cities in identifying themselves. The two cities Hiro and Never form the basis of historical and personal tragedies. When their shot lived affair ends, the characters know as little as possible concerning not only themselves but also concerning the said tragedies.

Shell Shock

The element of Shell Shock is more depicted in the woman character in this movie. In the course of World War II, she fell deeply in love with a certain German soldier. The solder was later shot and killed when the city was being liberated. Consequently, she was submitted to public humiliation, which was followed by a long period of near-madness and imprisonment in the home of her parents. Finally, she recovered enough and was able to leave permanently and she arrived in Paris on the day that the war ended after the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombing.

The events in the story come to transform the woman’s experience and memory in relation to the order of history. The woman acknowledges this shift in value. She confronts herself in the mirror and addressed her lover who has since died, asking him on why he betrayed her. At some occasions she labels the event as a “two penny romance” as a trivial and common affair. The change may be considered as a role of narration having been recounted and that this experience has changed in nature. In this way, the film has explored the nature of representation relative to memory and experience.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) refers to a type of mental disorder that comes up when a person passes through some traumatic experiences or moments. These may include but not limited to killings, natural disasters such as fire, accidents, floods and earthquakes. The situation is more triggered from elements or factors that threaten the life and stability of an individual or another one whom they have a close relationship. Further, it may be some observations, which a person has gone through such as plane crash.

There is a significant relationship between PTSD and other disorders. Research has indicated that individuals with this condition have a probability of developing other mental disorders. These may include depression, disorders related to anxiety, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, and substance use disorders. Acon-occurrence of PTSD and other disorders can negatively affect the treatment process of PTSD as well as the life quality (Yehuda 2010).

The story is revealed in stages which establish an allegorical relation between the present and the past and is many ways related to post traumatic stress disorder. The image of the woman’s first memory is impelled by an express visual comparison: her sleeping Japanese lovers twitching hand resembles and motivates a direct cut to, the shuddering hand of the dying German soldier. This transition presents a detailed illustration of a more intricate network of post traumatic stress disorder for both these two characters which is constructed in most parts of the film. The woman is affected by the trauma of the death of her first love and the man is affected by his past tragedies. Once the woman’s story is told, the experience and memory is transformed into history’s order as the woman acknowledges the shift in value and even confronts herself in the mirror addressing her dead lover and announcing her betrayal. She even refers to this event as a common, two-penny romance, even trivial affair. This shows how much the memory of the past has affected the woman. This is one way in which the film has tended to explore the nature of representation in relation to memory and experience.

The woman and the man are seen making love in one of the hotels in Hiroshima. This offers a connection between the psychological association of the human body and Hiroshima as the footage of Hiroshima bomb victims are revealed. Right in the films beginning, the relation is implied through the hand connection. The woman stands near the window looking upon the man who is by now sleeping on the bed, and perhaps feeling unconscious.

At this moment, it is not made clear whether the association of the characters is unconscious, or conscious, repressed or suppressed. However, there is another scene in the film which implies that the relation of the characters might be repressed. When the man and her Japanese counterpart discusses their recollection in the bar, he pours into her cup much bear and begins to intensely interrogate her. The actions and behavior gives an implication of a symbolic setting that is symbolic in nature. Furthermore, the man goes on to slap her more than twice and this slapping is violent to their point where she loses emotional control. While it may be hard to label the man’s action and behavior as misogynistic, the woman’s exaggerated gesture and submissive response typically reinforces the scene’s figurative tone. In the course of these exchanges, the woman declares the essentiality of repression stating repression is necessary for our day to day life. The manner in which she defends herself appears quiet juxtaposed and ironic. In another angle, this reaction may appear matched with her typical hysterical gasping for psychological and emotional stability and peace. Finally, the psychiatric session have seemed more than symbolic in this movie.

Hysteria

The element of Hysteria is also present throughout the this movie. For instance, when the man character inquires from the woman whether she never saw anything in Hiroshima, the woman begins to show her emotional perspectives on the events of that time. She explains emotionally that she actually saw everything that occurred during that time. In further showing this aspect, she explains using insistent words which are not only rhythmic but repetitious. These words are uttered in such a way that are charged with urgency and full of feelings. Both the man and the woman speak using authoritative voice, that is full of despair and agony as well as he vocal embodiments that are void similar to the montage images that are found in the Hiroshima museums which are narrated by these characters.

In this movie, the element of Hysteria happens to be gendered since the woman character portrays much of the emotional excesses. The woman is heard speaking more often as we see various visitors entering the museum. These visitors are observing the remains of the wrecked city that was destroyed by the bombing. Some of the visitors asks themselves, reconstructions, photography, for lack of anything, is anything real left out of Hiroshima?, only fragments which portray the degree of destruction.

From the woman’s narration, we can see something obscene, perverse and deeply unsettling concerning the life like relations of this voice gives to various objects found in Hiroshima museum. For example, she speaks about bouquets of bottle caps that are mangled and steel charred similar to human flesh. She informs us that the films were “as authentic as possible” though we can see the sense of irony in these words. Her subtext provides an inherent on the knowledge that any means of finding authenticity in such a scene may not be possible.

The museum is clean and bright and offers a sense of sterility. The museum curators seem to have collected the vestiges of agonies in post-bomb which are also displayed behind identifiable placards and contained in exteriors that are polished. Deformed, black fragments unidentifiable fragments of the city are placed on the white backgrounds. In addition, there are some pieces of human flesh, which are mounted on glass cases. The woman goes on to insist that she saw everything that occurred in the city. However, it is interesting that the woman denies her when he says that “you did not see anything in Hiroshima”.

We also see from the museum footage a montage of suffering and filth. Many people in Hiroshima immediately after the bombing. The land appears quite desolate and human bodies in despair. There is hysteria, blood, dirt, paralysis and faces mangled with chemicals and fire. Other things we see are charred flesh that ripped as well as human hair that falls in chunks. At many points, we can see a change of pace, intention and tone. The Hiroshima images after the bombing which have been steadily increasing in manic urgency and speed of succession are replaced and cut short with a long contemplative shot of the present landscape. The woman continues to speak

“I have met you. I can remember you. Who might you be? Do you want to destroy me?. You are for me. . . . I love you. How unlikely. I do love you. How slow in a sudden manner. How sweet.You may not know. You are definitely destroying me. Are you good for me? I have time. I kindly ask you to devour me. Deform me until I am ugly”.[2]

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[1] Armes, Roy, The Cinema of Alain Resnais , London, 2008


[2] Hiroshima Mon Amour. Dir. Alain Resnais. Perf. Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji

Okada. Pathé, 1959. Film

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