Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) tells the story of a French woman and a Japanese man who, both happily married, have a one-night romance in Hiroshima.
She, their names are never revealed, has come to Japan to play on a film about peace. He is an architect whose wife is out of town. They meet the day before her return to France. Locked up in a hotel room they make love and talk about Hiroshima.
It is a banal tale that happens everywhere in the world, a thousand times a day. But the city is the one place where it’s hardest to imagine. It’s Hiroshima, 1957, barely twelve years after the bombing.
As the film opens we see two naked bodies, the bodies of him and her. Untouched, glooming, sensual, entwined. Him and her in a bed. They talk about Hiroshima. She talks; he listens or contradicts her.
HE: You saw nothing in Hiroshima.
SHE: I saw everything. Everything. The Hospital for instance,
I saw it. I’m sure I did. There is a hospital in Hiroshima. How
could I help seeing it?
HE: you did not see the hospital in Hiroshima. You saw
nothing in Hiroshima
Their bodies make place for the hospital. We see different bodies. This time dead bodies, mutilated, coated with ashes and dust; a metaphor for time and place. We see the city burning. This the other Hiroshima.
In Hiroshima every gesture, word or encounter takes on a meaning that transcends its literal meaning. A love story set in Hiroshima is a different love story. Incorporating the horror of the past in a love affair that is so wonderful and special is more credible than if it had occurred anywhere else in the world. In Hiroshima love, horror, memory’s and hope have a different meaning.
At first director Alain Resnais wanted to make a short documentary about August 6, 1945. He spent a few months working on the script, but eventually got stuck and realised the story lend itself more for a feature film. He involved Magritte Duras at that time already an acclaimed novelist, not to forget enfant terrible, who wrote the scenario within two months working closely with the director.
The film garnered international acclaim upon its release in 1959. It received the Fipresci International Critics Award and an Oscar nomination for Best Scenario. Moreover the film changed the cinematic culture and became a pioneer of the French New Wave. With its mixture of reality and fantasy, documentary images and fictional flashbacks Alain Resnais created a non-linear fragmented storyline formally only known in literature, making the film truly the love child of a filmmaker and novelist.
As a literature student, putting literature on a pedestal far above cinema, Hiroshima Mon Amour taught me how stupid I had been. The film opened a world of cinema I had known nothing about. A type of film where strong dialogues still exist; a type of film where characters, just as in novels, stay with you forever; a type or film that questions continuously but never forces an answer. A credible, infinite love story: how many of them have you seen?
There are few films I can watch over and over again and Hiroshima Mon Amour is and will always be one of them. And I will always end up with the same ambivalent feeling. Hoping they will never meet again, hoping they will please meet again.
Text: Charlotte van Zanten