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Last Year at Marienbad (Criterion) (1961)

Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, more...
Director: Alain Resnais, Alain Resnais
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Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Criterion
Genre: Foreign, France, Experimental/Avant-Garde, Criterion Collection, French New Wave
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Last Year at Marienbad (Criterion) (1961)
A cinematic puzzle, Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad is a radical exploration of the formal possibilities of film. Beautifully shot in Cinemascope by Sacha Vierny, the movie is a riddle of seduction, a mercurial enigma darting between a present and past which may not even exist, let alone converge. The film stars Giorgio Albertazzi as an unnamed sophisticate attempting to convince a similarly nameless woman (Delphine Seyrig) that they met and were romantically involved a year ago in the same enormous, baroque European hotel. In the end, it hardly matters -- they're not characters so much as pawns anyway. Hypnotically dreamlike, Last Year at Marienbad is a surrealist parody of Hollywood melodrama, a high-fashion romance with a dark, alien underbelly. According to screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet, the movie is a pure construction, without a frame of reference outside of its own existence -- the lives of its characters begin when the lights go down, and conclude when they come back up. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Movie Guide

Last Year at Marienbad (Criterion) (Bonus Disc) (1961)

Bonus Features:

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Alain Resnais
  • New audio interview with Resnais, recorded exclusively for this release
  • New documentary on the making of Last Year at Marienbad, featuring interviews with many of Resnais' collaborators
  • New video interview with film scholar Ginette Vincendeau on the history of the film and its many mysteries
  • Two short documentaries by Resnais: Toute la mémoire du monde (1956) and Le chant du styrène (1958)
  • Original theatrical trailer and Rialto's rerelease trailer
  • New and improved English subtitle translation

GreenCine Member Ratings

Last Year at Marienbad (Criterion) (1961)
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7.81 (123 votes)
Last Year at Marienbad (Criterion) (Bonus Disc) (1961)
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1.00 (1 votes)

GreenCine Member Reviews

Dear Susan Sontag, by JPielaszczyk August 26, 2007 - 9:51 AM PDT
4 out of 7 members found this review helpful
Since you are no longer, alas, among the living, I've had to abandon my as-if longings for triple espressos with you in a Village coffeehouse near the Bleeker Street Cinema, one with deserted corridors overloaded with a dim, cold ornamentation of woodwork, stucco, mouldings, marble, dark mirrors . . . (ha-ha, just kidding about the decor). The Bleeker . . . where, during Marienbad's genesis, I saw for the first time Jean Cocteau's (1946) Le Sang d'un Poet (perhaps while, enbeknownst to me, you watched for the eighth time, from your favorite seat, third row, center).

When I first saw the film, I sat though three consecutive screenings, enthralled, my scrawled notes abandoned via a capitulation of reason to the emphatic flood of feelings and images, deranged, yearning not to leave the certainties of its ambiguities. Roy Armes (more below) wrote that it's impossible to give an adequate synopsis of Marienbad, making it virtually unique among feature films.

David Denby's article about you in The New Yorker dated September 12, 2005, entitled "The Moviegoer," gelled my longings and debt of honor to attempt a review of Last Year at Marienbad. Denby wrote about your " . . . exhalations of an unaffiliated intellectual trying to make sense of big issues and problems. It was a time [say, the 1960s] when people did not think it absurd to demand something like redemption from art."

A chance encounter with and purchase of a copy of The Cinema of Alain Resnais, by Roy Armes, published in 1968, with yellowed, brittle pages redolent of hot, dry attics, aided the constellation of my thoughts and images. I found out, for one thing, that Resnais isn't an auteurthat, particularly with this film, he never altered so much as a comma from his "filmwriters." For another, that when asked by Pierre Billard about the resemblance between Delphine Seyrig and Louise Brooks or Garbo, Resnais replied that " . . . we tried to obtain a silent cinema style of photography. We went so far as to ask Kodak to manufacture again for us [unsuccessfully], a film that was not 'anti-halo,' so that the whites would run." There's a swell quote from Andre Breton's "Second Surrealist Manifesto": "Everything leads us to believe that there exists a spot in the mind from which life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the high and the low, the communicable and the incommunicable will cease to appear contradictory." Also, "Robbe-Grillet had already insisted that the meaning of [one of his ] novel[s] lay in the movement of the description, not in the thing described. Now in the cinema he could use the voice of a narrator to make this poetical movement of the language apparent and fuse its rhythmns with those of Francis Seyrig's music and Resnais's images." A's real-life husband's organ music's emotional insistence weigh as much as X's emphatic/persuasive/demanding stare in overriding her objections during the spectacle of the two violinists' on-stage silent, animated playing during a key scene.

Armes wrote that Robbe-Grillet appreciated " . . . a somewhat ritual deliberation, a certain slowness, a sense of the theatrical, even that occasional rigidity of attitude, that hieratic quality in gesture, word and setting which suggests both a statue and an opera." I bought the results, but Denby quotes your deploring the movie's sluggishness and the "insufferable, incantatory style" of the narration, while resonating with " . . . the pure untranslatable sensuous immediacy of some of its images, and its rigorous if narrow solution to certain problems of cinematic form." Sigh.

M's macho posturings toward X take the forms of art history one-upmanship and, more frequently, his control of "the game" at which X always looses. When X leaves with A at midnight, the irregularly illuminated fenestrations of the chateau's stories echo the ranks of counters/dominoes in earlier forms of the game. A and X go, but don't leave. Perhaps M wins in this way. As I recall, the lit chateau remains as the film's final shot.

In Blade Runner, Harrison Ford's character and his replicant companion ride off into the end titles. Rather the certainties of life with compatible semi-human forms than the harsh uncertainties of normality. Denby's article features your photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson, in Paris, 1972, where you ". . . exalted in the intense cafe life of speculative brilliance and harsh debate. " Dressed in a pleated, white silk blouse beneath a perhaps borrowed male overcoat around your shoulders, you seem pensive, well worn, somewhat wary, and yet with vast reserves. The clock chimes: 1995: Denby, quoting you: "Young people no longer arrange[d] their emotional and intellectual lives around an art that was 'poetic and mysterious and erotic and moral all at the same time.'" Perhaps you, seated, turn your head and look up the staircase at my descending self, and I leave, "alone, with you."

More reviews for titles in this product:

Moveline's 100 Best Foreign Films
This list was published in Moveline's July 1996 issue.
Paul Schrader's Canon: 50 Essential Films
As seen in the writer-director's lengthy, invigorating article in Film Comment Magazine.

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