Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
In an instant we've forgotten ourselves. Over time, we'll forget all the 'unforgettables' that we hang onto, the deep impacts, the scars that we won't allow to heal, but it's inevitable. Time heals all. What Resnais realizes with Hiroshima mon Amour is the human desire to open the scabs and keep the wound alive, lick the blood and feed off of it, keep our pain alive so as not to betray a love that we never wanted to end. It captures, as Emmanuelle Riva's character puts it, an eventual "indifference and then shame at being so indifferent", the horrors of war cross-cut with sensual imagery, two shades of skin on skin. The terror of the greatest act of annihilation ever committed, and we are but tourists to this kind of Hell, the destruction and the monstrosity, what else can tourists do but weep? In the chaos of it all, as the world moves toward remembrance, creating films that remind us to never commit such acts again, films calling for peace (that are "taken very seriously in Hiroshima"), Renais introduces a mirroring personal tragedy, the outward and the inward reflect one another, a forbidden lover at an age ripe for high emotion, the deeply personal resonating with the global. He finds his darkest truths in that Hiroshima and the horrors of atomic warfare make for initial erotically-charged conversation with one who has penetrated so deeply as to be a temporary lover. The true violation is to let one trespass on the individual's crises, in the reveal of the personal tragedy, the true depth of caring is still in Riva's loss of one, not the world's loss of many. Each will be ultimately forgotten as the world moves forward, the tides of time turn, and the minutes pass into hours. A loss of innocence at the realization that all our deepest cares are but transitory and tragedy only alters our behavior but for a brief, fleeting moment.
The film's point of high emotion arrives during an alcohol-fueled revelation at a Hiroshima Tea Room. Riva's unnamed character finally breaks down and delves into the deepest of past scars, one that left her emotionally wounded for years and completely devastated her mind. What Resnais aims to impart is the most cruel fact of history, that today's tragedy is tomorrow's footnote, soon to be an increasingly glossed-over line of text as the centuries pass, even within our lifetimes, the human mind's instinct to bury its tragedies runs deep as a mechanism of survival. To show strength against tragedy, Riva resolves to "never forget". To show strength against the transient love, the opposite, she tries to "forget immediately". Both struggles are ultimately useless battles with the shadows in one's own mind. As the film progresses, we retreat inward, opening on the unforgettable visual of the radioactive ash falling on our lovers' naked bodies. In the darkness, we cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. We see first the world, the most horrific documentation of the deformity, the dismemberment, the burns, the destruction. Resnais blends his portrait of real footage and dramatic recreations, of then and now, twisted metal in a museum and the sobbing international onlookers. It is just as much an emotive journey through the highs and lows of erotic attraction, deep love, loss, humanity run amok, the human mind slowly losing itself, what has happened to a world that would do this to its own people? Resnais posits that the human mind, capable of so much, simply breaks under the pressure when the burden is too great and we do not have the faculties to withstand it. Politically, he states, we have not evolved in pace with our technology. If a world of such horror is possible, we must rise above the frailty we possess mentally, spiritually, philosophically, our characters attempt to maintain their equilibrium and grip on reality and their roles in society, yet all will clearly never be the same again. We don't want to return to normalcy, we want to allow the shock and awe of those initial seconds live on forever, so that we need never confront the sense of complacency that allowed us to wander down such a path ever again. Disregard for human frailty is what allows fools to rush in for love and war. Resnais captures like no one before or since, the instant when all becomes clear, when past, present and future collide in an instant of realization. Something at the tip of characters' fingers, on the tip of their tongue, they are about to verbalize a grand understanding of time, love, loss .. and in an instant they retreat again, terrified to leave their place of pain, unable to move on.
As we near our final frames, the lovers come together and drift apart, not wanting to leave the other's side, not wanting to approach, Riva berates herself for letting him into her private world. In the final moments, this realization comes full circle, the private world trumps the world at large for all individuals, like it or not. It is not a selfish or distasteful web Resnais weaves, but one that sees the human experience for what it is; no matter what we see, we are seeing it through the same two eyes we always have and always will. Regardless of how the world reacts at the mere mention of the word "Hiroshima", for Riva's character it will forever live as another meaning, she has washed away what the word used to signify, used to trigger and now has a new memory which takes precedence in her mind. The interior self, the individual holds more sway than the collective at this time, the mid-point of the twentieth century, we will watch as the tides of time change that as well, of course. For now, our two lovers care not for the world at large, but only deeply about themselves. This love affair has been a deeply personal experience, first with an image of another person and later scratching the surface at having the experience with the real person underneath. Resnais' film is so deeply layered, it is pointless to write more about. This occupies a sublime place in the visual medium where the film can only speak in its own language and cannot be translated back again.. One of cinema's highest achievements, Hiroshima mon Amour itself has become an experience to travel back to over and over, lest we forget.