Saturday 10 December 2016

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

Hiroshima, min elskede
Alain Resnais is back. He was the guy with the blow to the stomach movie, “Nuit et Brouillard” and with Hiroshima as part of the title I had a fairly good idea where this was going.

I was only partly right. The first 15 minutes is indeed continuing in the same vein with death and destruction and heart breaking footage of children crying out for their parents, radiation damaging and terrible deformities. Then the movie change and for the rest of the running time it is a fictious story of two lovers in “modern” Hiroshima, a French woman (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese man (Eiji Okada) having an intense affair (both are married we learn) that evolve into a very intimate and trance-like recall of events at the end of the war. Not the Hiroshima bomb, although his entire family died in the blast, but of her lover, a German soldier, who was shot at the end of the war.

I have very mixed feelings about this movie, most notably with the strange juxtaposition of the nuclear bomb and the confession of a wartime love affair. I fully understand the need of a memorial to the victims of the bomb, both for the terrible suffering of these people and to prevent a modern repetition (actually the blast was repeated only three days later) and the strong pictures, and by all that is holy these are very strong pictures, are justified. I also appreciate the raw emotion and intimacy of the confession story. It is very arty, but I tend to like art movies the stylized dialogue is poetic, pretentious, yes, but it actually works. What does not work is the two things together.

After the gut-wrenching first 15 minutes I felt completely numbed and unable to appreciate the following story. It feels obscene to even compare her personal story to that of the thousands of destroyed lives in Hiroshima. Sure, it is very important to her, but frankly, even to her I should think that such tragedies would make her suffering seem trivial. Instead her recollection is overpowering her, associating her Japanese lover with her lost German boyfriend and she is falling to pieces before the camera. At first I could not believe what I was watching. Then I felt angry at the comparison and only near the end did I start to feel appreciation for that part of the story.

According to the extra material the theme is awareness of forgetting…

That is one of those pieces of information you need a few minutes to digest. In fact it still baffles me. The story of the lovers I read as one of catharsis, a cleansing process that is necessary for her in order to carry on with her life. That she tells the story to a Japanese lover in an impossible affair, just means that she is taking a break from reality to get this done. She will never see him again and that is where her pain should go as well.

What I do not understand is why it is her and not him who is going through this cleansing. As far as I can tell he needs it a lot more. Or maybe the whole idea is that he already had it? That being in Hiroshima is dealing with the past instead of hiding it away?

A lot can be said about the poetic style of the filming and the dialogue. It is highly stylized and is using symbols to convey its meaning. It is of a kind that you would either love or hate. Love for the poetry and hate for the sheer pretentiousness. Oddly enough I find myself more on the “love” side of that fence. Once I accept that a movie is an art movie I can put on the proper glasses and enjoy it as such. Either way you cannot ignore the massive intensity of both Riva and Okada. This is emotional porn and the nakedness is a lot more than absence of cloth. This should engage the viewer, but how can you when you are already numb?

I still need to reconcile myself with the two very different movies in this package before I can truly say that I like this movie. Maybe I am just missing the key and eventually it will come to me. Until then I will park my evaluation on hold.


  1. I know it deals with important wartime subject matter, and the use of non-linear flashbacks is groundbreaking, but the mix of memories is just so confusing and unmemorable.
    Maybe he is mentally a bit tougher than her. To me, the female(Riva) might be nuts and the way he tells her she imagined Hiroshima could be making her condition worse or better, not sure. The film made more sense after I'd read this review:

    1. Oh, I think it is memorable allright. Those pictures of the bomb victims are not the kind I am likely to forget. Also the emotional meltdown of Riva is something that should stay with me for a while. It is one of those movies that tells a story that is more than it appears. The trouble is decoding it.