Monday, July 04, 2011

Last Year in Marienbad

L'Année dernière à Marienbad (released in the UK as "Last Year in Marienbad" and in the USA as "Last Year at Marienbad") is a 1961 French film directed by Alain Resnais, starring Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, and Sacha Pitoëff. The screenplay is by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

The film is famous for its enigmatic narrative structure, in which truth and fiction are difficult to distinguish, and the temporal and spatial relationship of the events is open to question. The dream-like nature of the film has fascinated and baffled audiences and critics, some hailing it as a masterpiece, others finding it to be incomprehensible. Among the notable images in the film is a scene in which two characters (and the camera) rush out of the château and are faced with a tableau of figures arranged in a geometric garden; although the people cast long dramatic shadows, the trees in the garden do not.

Marienbad is a town in the Czech Republic (though it is not clear whether the film's setting is meant to be Marienbad or somewhere else). Resnais filmed the scenes within several châteaux and their grounds, including the Nymphenburg Palace and Schleissheim Palace in Bavaria. He edited them to produce a disorienting space that does not make geographical sense. Some additional footage was shot at an indoor studio. The woman's wardrobe was designed by Coco Chanel.

The film was nominated for the 1963 Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay (Alain Robbe-Grillet), and it won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Film Festival. In 1963 Adonis Kyrou declared the film a total triumph in his influential Le Surréalisme au Cinéma (p. 206), recognizing the ambiguous environment and obscure motives within the film as representing many of the concerns of surrealism in narrative cinema.

Less reverently, Marienbad received an entry in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, by Harry Medved, with Randy Dreyfuss and Michael Medved. The authors lampooned the film's surrealistic style and quoted numerous critics who found it to be pretentious and/or incomprehensible.

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