Muriel ou le temps d’un retour (1963)
117 min., France
Hélène Aughain (Delphine Seyrig) is an antiques dealer who lives in the small French village of Boulogne together with her stepson, Bernard (Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée), a veteran of the Algerian War. Bernard is suffering from a war memory when a fellow soldier tortured an Arab girl called Muriel. Meanwhile, Hélène is visited by a past lover, Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Kérien) who appears accompanied by a 20-year-old mistress (Nita Klein). Yet Hélène still strives to escape the reality of her age and loneliness by breathing life into a faded memory of a past love. The narrative, like memory and intention, is jumpy, the past obscured by guilt, misperceptions, and missed possibilities. Appearances deceive, things change.
Muriel ou le temps d’un retour was Resnais’s third feature film. The themes she covers revolve around middle-class banality, reunion, revenge and the juxtaposition of old and new. Most importantly, the film makes a reference to the controversial subject of the Algerian War, which had recently been brought to an end. The film was Resnais’s second collaboration with Jean Cayrol, who had also written the screenplay of Nuit et brouillard (1955).
The film was first presented in Paris in 1963 and was then shown at the Venice Film Festival. If cinema has its equivalents to the master modernists of music, painting, or literature, then one of the tradition’s foremost practitioners is undoubtedly Alain Resnais — and Muriel ou le temps d’un retour which represents one of his earliest, and greatest, triumphs.