June 3rd, 1922 to March 1st, 2014
"Alain Resnais dies at 91; French New Wave filmmaker"
Considered one of France's greatest filmmakers, Resnais directed such acclaimed features as 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' and 'Last Year at Marienbad.'
March 2nd, 2014
Los Angeles Times
Alain Resnais, the French filmmaker whose intellectual experiments with time, memory and imagination yielded such celebrated films as "Last Year at Marienbad," has died. He was 91.
Resnais was editing drafts of his next project even from his hospital bed, his longtime producer, Jean-Louis Livi, told the Associated Press.
Resnais, who died Saturday, was renowned for reinventing himself during each of his full-length films, which included the acclaimed "Hiroshima Mon Amour" in 1959 and most recently "Life of Riley," which was honored at the Berlin Film Festival just weeks ago.
In France, he won two Césars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, and, in 2009, received a lifetime achievement award at the Cannes International Film Festival.
Praised by French President Francois Hollande as one of his nation's greatest filmmakers, Resnais started his career with art documentaries before making the leap to feature films.
Though many of his films were cerebral, his later work had a more clearly playful side. In 2009, he told reporters at Cannes that the humor in his film "Wild Grass" was inspired by one of his favorite TV shows: Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm".
His most influential work was "Last Year at Marienbad" (1961), which the New York Times described as "one of the most mysterious movies of the 1960s." Set in a massive, baroque hotel with characters identified only by a single initial, it is an ambiguous love story that revolves around the possible relationships, past and present, of M, X and A.
New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called it an "aimless disaster," but it has been lauded by fans such as filmmaker David Lynch and the former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who screened the movie at the White House.
Born on June 3, 1922, in Vannes France, Resnais, the son of a pharmacist, suffered from asthma as a child and was schooled at home. When he was 12, his parents acknowledged his fascination with movies and gave him an 8-mm camera.
During World War II, he studied acting and film editing in Paris, serving with the French military in 1945 and 1946.
He made short documentaries about the works of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Picasso but gained wider attention in 1955 with "Night and Fog", a haunting piece about the Nazi concentration camps.
His first feature film was "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (1959). The story of an ebbing affair between a Japanese architect and a French actress, it is set in post-WWII Hiroshima and is laced with each character's painful memories of war.
Regarded as part of the famed French "New Wave" of filmmakers, Resnais never had a blockbuster and spoke of them with a kind of bemused detachment.
"I'm certainly interested in a film which might gather millions of people, such as 'Jaws,' although I haven't seen 'Jaws' and no one I know has," he told The Times in 1977. "I am making films for everybody who doesn't want to stay home and watch television, and maybe that is a very few people."
Known for his debonair manner and full head of white hair, Resnais was described by a Times reporter in 1980 as "tall and beautifully barbered, with pale, papery skin and clear blue eyes. A non-smoker and non-drinker, he is shy and withdrawn yet terribly anxious not to seem ascetic or remote."
An artist who delved into pop culture as well as abstract thinking about non-linear storytelling, Resnais owned what is reputed to be the largest private comic-book collection in France.
His survivors include his wife, Sabine Azema, an actress who appeared in many of his films. They were married in 1998.
An earlier marriage, to Florence Malraux, daughter of the writer Andre Malraux, ended in divorce.
"Alain Resnais, Acclaimed Filmmaker Who Defied Conventions, Dies at 91"
March 2nd, 2014
The New York Times
Alain Resnais, the French filmmaker who helped introduce literary modernism to the movies and became an international art-house star with nonlinear narrative films like “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and “Last Year at Marienbad,” died on Saturday in Paris. He was 91.
His death was confirmed by the French president, François Hollande, who called Mr. Resnais one of France’s greatest filmmakers.
Although his name was often associated with the French New Wave directors — notably Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, whose careers coalesced around the same time his did — Mr. Resnais actually belonged to a tradition of Left Bank intellectualism that drew on more established, high-culture sources than the moviecentric influences of the New Wave. Where Godard’s 1960 film, “Breathless,” was a pastiche of low-budget American gangster films, Mr. Resnais’s breakthrough feature, “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” in 1959, took on two subjects weighted with social and political significance: the American nuclear destruction of Hiroshima, Japan, and the German occupation of France.
To bind these themes into a melancholy love story about a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) who has a brief affair with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada), Mr. Resnais commissioned a screenplay from the writer Marguerite Duras, then one of the emerging stars of the “nouveau roman” movement, which was challenging literary narrative conventions.
Mr. Resnais continued to collaborate with celebrated authors like Alain Robbe-Grillet, a leading proponent of the nouveau roman, on “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961) and Jorge Semprún of Spain for “La Guerre Est Finie” (1966) and “Stavisky...” (1974), yet his films could never be described as simple literary exercises.
Fascinated by the ability of film editing to take apart and reassemble fragments of time — one of his first professional experiences was as an editor and assistant director on “Paris 1900,” a 1947 documentary on the French capital during its belle époque — Mr. Resnais incorporated the effects of scrambled memories, déjà vu and fantasy into his work.
In “Last Year at Marienbad,” which won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Film Festival, a man identified only as “X” (Giorgio Albertazzi) tries to convince a woman identified only as “A” (Delphine Seyrig) that they had had an affair the year before at Marienbad, the fashionable European spa. As they wander the corridors and grounds of a sprawling chateau, A resists X’s advances, as a third man, M (Sacha Pitoëff), who seems to be A’s husband, looks on.
The film achieves its hypnotic force through repeated lines and situations, a time scheme that folds back on itself, and ominous, black-and-white wide-screen images that evoke both surrealist paintings (human figures cast long shadows, but not the decorative shrubbery that frames them) and the society dramas of silent film. (Ms. Seyrig is costumed to resemble the enigmatic silent star Louise Brooks.)
The film’s radical approach won both extravagant praise and harsh derision: the critic Pauline Kael dismissed it as “all solemn and expectant — like High Mass.” Mr. Resnais’s attitude was more amused.
“I don’t believe it is really a riddle to be solved,” he told the television interviewer François Chalais. “Every spectator can find his own interpretation, and it’s likely to be the right one.”
Mr. Resnais had a full head of white hair that the French newspaper Le Monde said he had sported for so long that one could forget he was ever young. He exhibited a youthful energy well into his 80s and was working on drafts of his next project from his hospital bed when he died, the producer Jean-Louis Livi said.
Despite the serious nature of his films, he showed a playful side in recent years and said he had found inspiration in Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” one of his favorite television shows. Another expression of his appreciation for “high” and “low” culture was his interest in cartoons. His 1989 movie, “I Want to Go Home,” was a comedy collaboration with Jules Feiffer, with whom he wrote the screenplay. He told a French interviewer that he wanted his work to have the effect of “désolation allègre” — “cheerful desolation.”
Mr. Resnais was married twice. His first wife, Florence Malraux, was the daughter of the novelist André Malraux and worked as his assistant on many of his films from “Marienbad” to “Mélo.” They later divorced. His second wife, Sabine Azéma, who survives him, is an actress who appeared in many of his films.
Mr. Resnais was born on June 3, 1922, in the village of Vannes, in Brittany, where his father was a pharmacist. He became fascinated by the movies as a child, and at 14 he directed his first film in eight millimeter, “L’Aventure de Guy,” now lost but said to have been inspired by Louis Feuillade’s crime serial “Fantômas.”
In 1939, he moved to Paris to study acting, and in 1942 he appeared as an extra in Marcel Carné’s Occupation allegory “Les Visiteurs du Soir.” When the French national film school, L’Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques, was founded in 1943, Mr. Resnais became a member of what would become the first graduating class.
Mr. Resnais directed his first 16-millimeter short in 1946, a surrealist comedy titled “Schéma d’une Identification” (“Outline of an Identification”), and persuaded a neighbor, the matinee idol Gérard Philipe, to lend his name and presence to the project. He soon followed with a feature-length work, “Ouvert Pour Cause d’Inventaire” (“Open on Account of Inventory”). Both are now believed lost.
Mr. Resnais then threw himself into a series of short documentaries and sponsored films, including a 1947 homage to Nestlé’s powdered milk.
A 1948 film on Van Gogh impressed the producer Pierre Braunberger, who invited him to remake it in 35 millimeter. Works on a wide variety of subjects followed, but it was a 1955 synthesis of newly shot and newsreel footage that established Mr. Resnais’s reputation: “Night and Fog,” a quietly powerful exhortation to the French, and the world, to remember the Nazi death camps at a time when their horrors were fading into willed amnesia.
After the international success of “Marienbad,” Mr. Resnais returned to the subject of suppressed historical trauma in 1963 with “Muriel,” a relatively straightforward drama about a middle-aged antiques dealer (Ms. Seyrig again) whose life has been warped as a distant consequence of the war in Algeria.
Memory, with an increasingly complex use of montage to evoke the mind’s unpredictable associations, became the central subject of Mr. Resnais’s films: from “La Guerre Est Finie” (1966) to “Providence” (1977). Perhaps his most innovative film of this period was the 1968 “Je t’Aime Je t’Aime,” which used a time-travel premise to compose a complex series of enigmatic images and dramatic fragments spiraling through one man’s subjective experience of life.
A more playful, satirical side of Mr. Resnais’s personality emerged with the 1980 “Mon Oncle d’Amérique,” a witty disquisition on humans’ lack of free will spun from the behavioralist theories of the psychologist Henri Laborit. The film’s contrapuntal structure, which moved among three different stories to explore a common theme, would become a key element in Mr. Resnais’s later work.
For “Life Is a Bed of Roses,” in 1983, Mr. Resnais assembled the trio of performers who would remain with him for much of the rest of his career: Ms. Azéma (whom Mr. Resnais would marry in 1998), Pierre Arditi and André Dussollier, each of them expert at the kind of stylized, theatrical acting that became central to Mr. Resnais’s work.
In films like the 1986 “Mélo,” adapted from a 1929 play by Henri Bernstein, and “Smoking/No Smoking,” a pair of 1993 features based on Alan Ayckbourn’s eight-play cycle, “Intimate Exchanges,” Mr. Resnais explored the tension between cinematic realism and theatrical artifice. In his hands, the conflict became a metaphor for the competing roles of chance and predetermination in shaping human lives.
From its somber beginnings, Mr. Resnais’s work seemed to grow more lighthearted over the years. A passionate devotee of Broadway musicals, he incorporated music into his work with the pop score of “Same Old Song” (1997) and “Not on the Lips,” a 2003 adaptation of a 1925 operetta.
In 2009, the New York Film Festival opened with his “Wild Grass,” a bittersweet comedy of missed romantic connections that came with two different endings; Mr. Resnais suggested that spectators could choose the one they liked best.
At the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, where Mr. Resnais received a lifetime achievement award, he said: “I’ve read articles calling me a filmmaker of memory. I’ve always refused that label by saying, ‘No, I want to make films that describe the imaginary.’ ”
His interest was not nostalgia, he added: “It’s simply the astonishment over everything that our imaginary can provoke.”
His last film, “The Life of Riley,” had its premiere last month at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Alfred Bauer Prize. This particular Silver Bear award celebrates a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art.”
"Alain Resnais, whose complex, intellectual films include ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour, ’ dies at 91"
March 2nd, 2014
The Washington Post
Alain Resnais, a French filmmaker who directed a riveting early documentary about Nazi concentration camps and whose later films “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and “Last Year at Marienbad” melded opulent, baroque imagery with complicated narratives that could be as puzzling as they were compelling, died March 1 in Paris. He was 91.
Producer Jean-Louis Livi confirmed that Mr. Resnais had died but did not provide a cause of death.
Mr. Resnais, a major figure in international cinema in the 1950s and ’60s, was occasionally linked to the “new wave” of unconventional French filmmakers, including François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.
The new wave is often associated with films that were lyrical, fast-paced, easy to watch and imbued with a cheeky youthfulness. Mr. Resnais developed a different path. As Richard Roud, a co-founder and the first director of the New York Film Festival, put it, a Resnais film was always a “calculated work of art. It is not spontaneous, it is not realistic and it is complex.”
This was true of much of Mr. Resnais’s later work but not of the short documentary with which he established his reputation. Made just a decade after World War II ended, “Nuit et Brouillard” (“Night and Fog”) (1955) is often credited as the first filmic evocation of the Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
A mixture of grisly black-and-white photographs taken during World War II combined with quiet color images of the now-empty camps, the 30-minute film could not be more straightforward and harrowing. Writing in the New York Times in 2000, film critic Stuart Klawans said “Night and Fog” “remains an unsurpassed meditation on the Holocaust.”
The text was written and narrated by the poet and publisher Jean Cayrol, a survivor of the Gusen camp in Austria.
“If one does not forget, one can neither live nor function,” Mr. Resnais told an interviewer in 1966. “The problem arose for me when I was making ‘Nuit et Brouillard.’ It was not a question of making yet another war memorial, but of thinking of the present and the future. Forgetting ought to be constructive.”
His emphasis on memory — more as an intellectual or even elliptical exercise than as straightforward dramatic narrative — pervaded much of his subsequent work.
With “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959), Mr. Resnais initially envisioned a documentary similar to “Night and Fog,” but he altered his vision after consulting with the French novelist Marguerite Duras.
She turned in a script with 16 pages of dialogue, a spareness that allowed the director to shape a stylized narrative centered on the tortured affair between a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada).
The result, which Time magazine called “an intense, original and ambitious piece of cinema,” combined documentary footage with a love story told in present tense but forever overshadowed by the memory of atomic catastrophe and her earlier love for a German soldier who was killed during the Allied liberation of France.
As he did with “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” Mr. Resnais often worked with writers who were not yet generally associated with the film world. His next major project was “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961), a collaboration with the French avant-garde novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet.
“Last Year at Marienbad,” featuring Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi and Sacha Pitoëff, focused on a man’s attempts to persuade a woman that they had an affair a year earlier. The surreal film regularly turns up on lists of the “best” and the “worst” movies ever made.
By design, the characters — known only as A, X and M — have no more humanity than figures on a chessboard, variables in an equation or dummies in a store window. For that reason, it has often been said that half of the fashion photography of the past 50 years owes a debt to “Marienbad.”
The movie represented an effort to “determine if it is possible to represent, even roughly, the mechanics of thought, not in reality, but in the minds of the characters,” Mr. Resnais told a reporter at the time.
Attempts to discern a plot, discover a hidden message or make an emotional connection with the characters in “Marienbad” are doomed to failure. “Marienbad” is best followed as if it were a string quartet, a ballet or a mysteriously animated painting that changes ever so slightly as you watch.
“With ‘Marienbad,’ Resnais carried the cinema farther than it has ever gone before without worrying about whether or not audiences would follow,” Godard told the New York Times in 1962. “If he were a novelist or a poet, this wouldn’t matter — but in the cinema, you’re supposed to worry about your audience. Alain knows this and that’s why he seems so contradictory and mysterious. He’s trying to hide his obsession with his art.”
Alain Resnais was born on June 3, 1922, in Vannes, an ancient village in Brittany where his father ran a pharmacy. A fragile child, Mr. Resnais was educated mostly at home. On his 12th birthday, he was given an 8mm camera and began to make home movies, with his friends given starring roles.
His fascination with the visual arts dated to childhood, when Mr. Resnais had been a devoted reader of comic strips. He suggested that his interest in flashbacks and what he would dub “flashforwards” might have been inspired by his love of Milton Caniff’s long-running cartoon “Terry and the Pirates.”
“It was an impossible task to find that story in France because it would be published for two weeks and then disappear,” he told film scholar James Monaco. “Then I would find it in Italian and then that would disappear, too. And after that there was a war and so I had to read ‘Terry and the Pirates’ in complete discontinuity.
“Well,” he said, “I discovered that it gave the story a lot of emotion to know Terry when he was 14 and then when he was, say, 24, after which I would make up myself what had happened to him when he was 22 or 17.”
At 17, Mr. Resnais moved to Paris and studied acting before entering the French military toward the end of World War II.
Afterward, he began making short movies about artists such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, the second of which won an Academy Award for best short film. He also directed a film about the Nazi bombing of the Basque city of Guernica and Pablo Picasso’s artistic response to it.
“Providence,” made in 1977, was Mr. Resnais’s first film in English. Despite a cast that included John Gielgud as a dying English novelist, it was savaged by most critics. The New Yorker film reviewer Pauline Kael was particularly hard on Mr. Resnais, reducing his technique to “beautiful diddles.”
“Providence” eventually found passionate admirers. And Monaco, in a riposte to Kael, believed he had found the key to Mr. Resnais’s work.
“Alain Resnais’ films, far from being the complicated and tortuous intellectual puzzles they are reputed to be, are rather simple, elegant, easily understood — and felt — investigations of the pervasive process of imagination,” he once wrote. “It doesn’t even take much imagination to enjoy them. All that is necessary is an understanding that we are watching not stories but the telling of stories.”
Among Mr. Resnais’s other most-celebrated films are “La Guerre Est Finie” (“The War Is Over”) (1966), a drama starring Yves Montand as an aging Communist Party revolutionary in Franco’s Spain, and “Stavisky” (1974), with an instrumental score by Stephen Sondheim.
Mr. Resnais’s works included “Muriel” (1963), a melancholy rumination on the Algerian war; “La Vie Est un Roman” (1983), an interweaving of three disparate tales spread across several centuries; “I Want to Go Home” (1989), an excursion into the world of comic books that was set in Cleveland to a script by cartoonist Jules Feiffer; and three settings of plays by the British author Alan Ayckbourn, including “Smoking/No Smoking” (1993).
Florence Malraux, the daughter of the French author and politician Andre Malraux, was an assistant director for most of Mr. Resnais’s films after and including “Marienbad.” They were married in 1969 and later divorced. His second wife was the actress Sabine Azéma, who appeared in many of his films from the early 1980s and whom he married in 1998.
A complete list of survivors could not be immediately confirmed.
The tall, formal, soft-spoken Mr. Resnais was generally liked personally by those he met, including critics who didn’t always admire his work.
“I make difficult films,” Mr. Resnais acknowledged in 1962, “but not on purpose.”
Alain Resnais [Wikipedia]
Hiroshima mon amour [Wikipedia]
Last Year at Marienbad [Wikipedia]