Best Movie Ever: Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959)

Posted on January 29, 2014


Hiroshima, Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)

This certainly isn’t easy. The story isn’t laid out in front of you bit by bit, the characters aren’t anyone you know and the settings are places that exist only in our minds. I could very well dismiss this film as being ‘basically a really long conversation’, and in many ways thats true. It depends how you define conversation of course, but there we go. Despite being ‘basically a really long conversation’, Hiroshima, Mon Amour manages to grab your interest from the start and keep it right until the very end.

This conversation is between a French actress and a Japanese architect, and mostly concerns love and memory. Kundera claimed that the memory of revulsion is stronger than the memory of tenderness, and this memories conjured up within Hiroshima, Mon Amour lay testament to this. Opening with images of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombings, it’s easy to let your mind quash just how horrific that was. The subject of memory is introduced almost immediately, with the man refuting any claims to memory that She has, claiming that she is ‘not endowed with memory’. We get our first glimpses of the two, and the concentration moves from there.

The actress quickly becomes the centrepiece of the film, and in particular her memories of a love affair she had during the days of occupied France in WW2. It turns out she fell in love with a German soldier, which led to her being shamed and humiliated by her town. You know, head shaved, forced to live in a cellar, the usual. Her memories get more and more vivid and her speech more and more tense as her speech moves on, to the point where the confident, self-assured lady at the beginning of the film has been replaced by a nervous little girl. It’s a remarkable transformation. The film closes with her telling him that his name is Hiroshima, and him replying that hers is Nevers (the town she originates from in France).

The first few scenes of the film are truly extraordinary. Flitting between groping limbs covered in ash to those in the act of love, life and death blends together almost too well. Whilst the opening gives us image after image of horror, this is a film about love, and in particular how we perceive love in memory. It’s all too easy to accentuate past love to the point of mania. Zizek said that fantasy was better than real life, and in no realm is this more true than in the realm of love. The idea of love will always trump the every day mundane existence of the thing. From our teenage years, most of us will have imagined meeting a particular person, and the life-affirmation that would come with it. The chances are we’ve met many individuals way above the idealised in our dreams, but no feeling has ever come close.

So we embellish past loves and future loves, without embellishing the loves we currently have. In Hiroshima, Mon Amour, the French actress is rekindling her love affair with the German soldier vicariously through the Japanese architect. She has a husband back home, and he a wife, which rounds off the fickle nature of what we believe love to be. The real world would be a lot simpler than it is if we weren’t so burdened with memory, or more to the point interpreting memory. Because it is always our interpretation of events that let us down.

Still, top film. Some lovely imagery interspersed with dream-like speech will always be a winner in my admittedly easy-to-please book.


Posted in: Cinema