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on March 1, 2005
Last Year at Marienbad is a "love story," although not a "story" in the conventional narrative sense, since the fragmented images cannot be scanned chronologically. The "story" is not told rather it is described using a juxtaposition of physical images, through memories and associations, projected through a space-time continuum, which destroys both linear chronology and fixity. Resnais built a captivating puzzle-like film, a labyrinth, which at time resembles the optical illusions of Escher or the surreal world of Magritte. Any attempt to provide a satisfying chronology for the film would contradict the assumptions upon which it was built, as well as the manner in which it is presented.

Marienbad is a cine-roman, a cinematic novel, that is, a particular way to tell a story, which by definition involves space and time. It is not simultaneously a novel and a film, but it uses certain techniques of the novel and of the cinema. Resnais uses a variety of cinematographic techniques: the use of "atmosphere," or mise-en-scene, to provoke an emotional response on the audience's part; the use of "dream" sequences, flashbacks and flash forwards as they relate to imagistic or observational characterizations of a character's imagination; the use of visual and audio montages to disrupt the chronological time and replace the temporal and linear narration by his mise-en-scene's spaces. As a result, it is necessary to view each Resnais film completely in order to understand its structure and discourse. This is especially true for Marienbad, where a second and even a third viewing are necessary to fully appreciate the structure and the details.

Marienbad is lyrical, but by its framings, has the precision of a documentary, undermining the cinematographic writing and heralding the future films of Duras, Robbe-Grillet, or Jean-Luc Godard. Resnais uses extremely short scenes, with purposely too dark or over-exposed shots, obscure image flashes, shot with reframing that allow for the intrusion of characters. Certain scenes are repeated several times, with variants. At times, the actors' clothing changes in the same scene, resulting in blurring the distinctions between past, present, and future, reality and fantasy The fluid camera moves everywhere with unrestricted freedom, a character unto itself. The dialogues are in the form of leitmotifs. The secondary characters utter disjointed, repetitive bits of conversations, and have a strange tendency to freeze in mid-sentence, or even to speak without making a sound. All of these effects are mesmerizing, and contribute to destabilizing the viewer. The mystery is further sustained by the names of the characters, which are only initials.

Everything contributes to destroying chronology and setting an ambiguous mood. The music at the film's "beginning" is typically "end of film" music. Using staggered sound tracks of the narrator's (X's) voice after the music further enhances this impression. Through most of the film, the sound of a single organ, playing an excruciating music score mostly in a minor key which seems to have come from a horror film, accompanies the action. Minor keys conjure melancholy and insecurity. X and A, dancing a slow waltz whose music, instead of being joyful and exuberant, recalls Sibelius' Valse Triste, does not contribute in any way to lighten the mood.

Games are pervasive in this film, symbolizing destiny (dominoes), and also the domination of M (who plays poker with determination and coldness, successfully bluffing his adversaries). But the most notable game shown in the film is a variation of the game of Nim, which from the release of the film on became known as "the game of Marienbad." M haughtily announces "I could lose, but I always win." In this particular version of Nim, which is based on binary representation of the number of items in the game at any give time, the one who first starts the game cannot win against an experienced player, such as M. And M, who proposes the contests, always manages, under the cover of courtesy, to make his adversary begin the game.

The first theme of Marienbad is love, which does not require much explanation. X is or was in love with A (or was it with A? If not, then A will do), and A, as befits any beautiful woman, plays hard-to-get (or maybe she is not attracted by a bore such as X).

The second theme is Resnais' favorite: the elusiveness and subjectivity of memory, but also, its persistence and inescapability. As in Hiroshima Mon Amour, Resnais explores the effects of time and memory on the emotions of a pair of would-be lovers. In his hands, the time elements of memory, whether retrospective or prospective, find realization as cinematic images, which the author manipulates through editing, effusing a non-chronological structure to his work. In Marienbad, Resnais shows us the hotel, its corridors, its salons, and its garden, together taken as an explicit metaphor for the "mind," traveled by the roving camera, the "self" exploring its memory.

There are so many things to discover in Marienbad that, like the "story," the possibilities are endless. There are two possible ways of viewing this film. In the first, a Cartesian approach, the viewer will try to somehow impose a linear, rational structure and invariably will find the film difficult, if not totally incomprehensible. In the second way, the viewer will just let him or herself be carried away by the extraordinary images and the mise-en-scene, and he or she will find the film completely obvious. And the "bonus" resides in the fact that upon subsequent viewings, one can reassemble this puzzle-like film in as many different ways as one's imagination allows, making it each time a new viewing experience. Viewers in the first category will probably give the film a negative rating; those in the second category will give it a five-star rating. I give it a five star.
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on October 31, 2003
Be warned up front that this movie will not suit everyone. This is film as art and it is in black and white; there are those who hate it and those who love it. It is subtitled in English but you will enjoy it even more if you understand French because the off voice is often hauntingly poetic. It was filmed on location in Bavaria, Germany, near Munich at the palaces of Nymphenburg and Schleissheim. The script is relatively easy to find both in French, L'Annee derniere a Marienbad, and in English under a title slightly different from the one of the movie: Last Year in Marienbad.

I greatly admire and love this movie; I believe it to be a masterpiece of French cinema. This is a work that you'll watch over and over and of which you will not tire. A labyrinthian intrigue unfolds in an icily beautiful sprawling baroque palace --a dream-like deluxe palace hotel where tuxedos and evening dresses are de rigueur . Along with the protagonists you will enjoy losing yourself over and over in this enchanted yet disquieting movie.

He ("X " in the official script --he remains nameless in the movie) and She ("A" in the official script --also nameless in the movie) had met last year at Marienbad (thus the title). That's what he says. A romantic encounter, apparently. A short-lived affair, a summer long liaison? The true nature of their relationship is never disclosed. If they did not have an affair might they not have exchanged only a promise to elope, or merely agreed to meet again a year later? Did He grant her one year's reflection time to decide whether to follow him and leave her husband? Ah, yes, her husband is there also, a witness and party to this mystifying situation; quite a dispassionate and remote witness though. Yet he genuinely loves her, well at least he seems to care about her, in his cold, aloof way that is. Would the husband know more about the matter than he lets out? In some European legends it is Death who sometimes grants a one year reprieve to her victims, could it be... too farfetched an interpretation since death is at no time mentioned in the movie. Your guess will be as good as mine.

But, again, did they actually meet last year at Marienbad? X/He argues they did, obsessively. A/She pretends having no recollection whatsoever of the event and denies everything. Of this encounter He is absolutely, passionately convinced; but her denials and her rejections of his advances appear no less sincere and convincing.

One of them must be in error if not lying, fatally, but who? Did He actually have an affair with her or is he deluded and raving mad? He keeps trying to wake up her memories, relentlessly, but has she such memories? His off voice resounds along the empty hallways like an incantation; would he be attempting to captivate, hypnotize, or bewitch her? Is She amnesic or deluded, truthful or lying? What motives would move him, or her, to keep pretending so maddeningly? Who will convince whom? And how is it that her husband cannot ever be defeated at that mind game of his that became the rage after he initiated the male guests?

Welcome to Marienbad! Wait, no, this is not Marienbad! Marienbad was last year of course, supposedly at least; this is another place, nameless. A sumptuous palace of endless corridors lined with gilded baroque stuccoes and ornate mirrors, icy cold in the midst of a brightly sunlit summer; viewer beware! You have entered a universe of pure fiction, your old points of reference, your habitual rationality and expectations are worthless. Already X, once again, weaves a vortex of deja vu, lies, delusions, obsessions, dreams or are they genuine memories? How will you tell? His voice charms you, draws you into his world beyond the hotel, and when the night will have fallen on the grounds you will realize, only too late that you cannot escape him, you cannot leave; you will be, as I am, one of the guests --forever.
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on April 21, 2001
LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD is virtually without peer in the cinema. It has caused a great deal of controversy over the years, with some claiming it as one of the greatest films ever made, others claiming that it must be some sort French joke on the audience. For those of you familiar with French films in general, you know that bad French movies tend to consist of a few characters discoursing about love in a stilted, soap-opera-like manner. Set against this context, LYAM is indeed a joke, a brilliant satire. The banality of the love triangle also pokes very Gallic fun at the annoying cliches of Hollywood melodrama. Part of the confusion caused by this film comes from the standard nature of the plot - our expectations about how this type of film should work are constantly set up, then thouroughly compromised from the opening sequence of the movie. Viewers are rarely cognizant of just how much we have internalized standard Hollywood techniques as the ONLY way of using cinematic forms to tell a story, which should have a beginning, middle and end, but MARIENBAD cannot be understood this way, although there is indeed a progression to this bizarre narrative, which takes the form of Man Y's increasingly elaborate explanations of what might have happened between him and the Woman in her room, which might have been either rape or seduction. It is a profoundly VISUAL film that can only be understood if you use your eyes carefully. The action is split completely from the dialogue, which goes over the same issues again and again in settings that indicate different times of day and of the year. Some of these scenes are flashbacks, some may only be the narrator's fantasy. In MARIENBAD, past, present and future coexist simultaneously. What MARIENBAD dramatizes is the relative quality of human memory. We tend to organize our perceptions of the world in linear fashion, but memory is non-linear, collapsing past and present into a single entity. Subjectivity is crucial to understanding MARIENBAD, which examines the way in which each participant in a given event experiences the same event differently. Lawyers know that if you have six different eywitnesses to an event, you will get six different stories about what happened, and this relativity of memory is basically what MARIENBAD is about. Once you know this, MARIENBAD is actually quite easy to understand and to follow, at least in terms of the "plot." Now just sit back and admire the unbelievably rich technique the film uses to explore this idea. The moving camera tracks by frozen humans, assimilating them within the overall decor, are combined with astonishing editing techniques which alternately slow down or extend time itself through fragmentation or repetition. The performances (and the actors REALLY ARE BRILLIANT - I can hardly imagine how difficult this film must have been to act) accomplish the same thing through similar means. This film should be watched at least 3 times, once just to accustom yourself to its unique rhythms, a second to appreciate the complex structure, and a third for the humour of it. MARIENBAD is a truly mind-boggling experience.
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on June 23, 2009
Alain Resnais makes Terrence Malick look like Guy Ritchie. You will often read the word "dreamlike" in connection with this film but that's misleading in a way because it implies the soft, CGI limpness of today's film fantasy fare. What makes this movie's other-wordly quality so unsettling is how deeply rooted it is in the real world - in the concrete and the solid. It's full of walls and heavy furniture and large rooms and weighty doors and formal gardens and attire. In fact, it's so loaded down with its own visual weight, it shouldn't budge. But it floats and soars and weaves memory and desire together so deftly that you constantly feel as though you're flying through the interiors, a kind of all seeing - though never quite fully comprehending - spirit. This is a marvelous film. One of the best ever made - because it works on you for days, weeks and even years after.
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on February 27, 2000
The visual quality of this DVD is better than most Fox/Lorber releases. The letterboxing is accurate and the quality of the image is much better than the old Connoisseur VHS. However, at least that version kept the subtitles underneath the film image, on the bottom of the black letterboxed borders. With the kind of poor judgement they have become famous for among video/DVD collectors, Fox/Lorber has plastered the subtitles across the image itself. Considering the small size of the letterboxed image, this makes for difficult viewing at times. Granted, you can turn these subtitles off but that's hardly the point. Fox/Lorber charges thirty bucks for their sub-standard releases on classic titles for which they have virtually cornered the market. For students of cinema, the name Fox/Lorber on a video jacket almost guarantees that the title will not receive the treatment it desereves. (Witness their time-compressed version of UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG.) Isn't it time people began complaining loudly and more often?
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on March 22, 2003
This film is the most radical, experimental and surreal film ever made to this day. Nothing done by any other filmmakers before or since compares to its violation of ordinary modes of cinema, and yet, it establishes its own reality which is perfectly understandable, once one is mesmerized by its beauty.
It is easy to do so, as the film is shot with an immaculately clean and smooth black and white style in an enormous and picturesque resort, with the most elegant and beautiful french actors of the day.
However, the film is far more than picturesque. The writer, Robbe-Grillet, is one of the greatest innovators of 20th century literature and cinema. He stated in the introduction to the published version of the script that his desire was not to confuse the viewer, but to present something closer to what one actually experiences in everyday life than what is given in ordinary storytelling - a combination of present experience, past memories, and future anticipations, all of which are equally important because in the mind, they are so. One does not live life like a storybook - one lives it within the universe of human consciousness, which is exceedingly difficult and complex to record. This is one of the few films to attempt just that.
This DVD is an excellent quality transfer, and the subtitles can be turned off if you want to see the entire screen-image.
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on August 28, 2006
People tend to either love or hate this film. Whilst some adore it's labyrinthine, non-linear structure; the playfulness of the imagery; and the innate contradictions between the voice-over narrative and the visual imagery, others consider this irrelevant and tedious.

The subtlety of the film in both the auditory and visual modes encourages examination. Why do the figures in the garden cast shadows, when the garden itself doesn't? The film has the texture of a dream, reminiscent of the eerie paintings of Paul Delvaux and Giorgio de Chirico.

This is a film that all students of the subject should see. It is not an easy film to watch, but an endlessly rewarding one to consider and reconsider. It is a film for those who believe art should challenge.
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on May 10, 2009
Crazy, existential fun. I saw this in the theatre, and didn't have a clue. Yet the eerie mood, music and setting were compelling enough for me to find the published screenplay, with notes from both Resnais, and Robbe-Grillet. How simple it was then, but it's still one of my favorite "games" films. Treat yourself; be patient. Visually, it's as stunning as any film you might see. I've always wondered if the Academy nominated its screenplay because it was embarrassed to admit that they didn't know what the hell was going on. Hmmm... A fine film for heavy-duty film discussion.
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on February 6, 2015
I watched this film in my film class and thought this was the worst film I had ever seen in my life. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be reviewing this film and give it five star's. We did a film analysis in class after the film was over, and than it made me realize that there is more than meets the eye for this film. It's hard to explain, but the film is like a jigsaw puzzle, you have to keep working it until you find out what the film is truly about. You have to see this film at least 3 times to get the feel of it and grasp it's meaning. I can only say if your a film student or an extreme movie buff watch the film, you won't be disappointed.
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on June 30, 2009
Partly a love triangle with opaque reality - partly imagination where the details are continuously reworked - but mostly an enigma with a labyrinth of dialogue and beautiful images. It's the comprehension of being comfortably perplexed. Last Year at Marienbad is one of cinema's most indefinable films. The film uses a group of impeccably dressed socialites and places them in Baroque hotel. The opening narrative repeatedly describes the setting and eventually gives way to its central characters - a man and the woman he claims to have met the prior year. She is there at the hotel with another man - most likely her husband - creating somewhat of a love triangle. Their ensuing discourse of a past encounter and their future paths are the central focus of the film.

In this myriad of dialogue and images - it may help for the viewer to know that several times throughout this film Nim is played. Nim is a strategical game based on a mathematical theory where players takes turns removing objects from a pile. Each move affects the decision to be made by the next player - reaction to action. Within this game there are a finite number of possible moves, and each successive move helps define the outcome. The film applies this game's principle of intellectual finesse to the two male leads - with the woman being the metaphorical prize. The challenger in this game must perfect his strategy to overtake the more experienced player.

Last Year at Marienbad is puzzling film open to widespread speculation. Any claims of complete definement are purely conjecture - for this was Alain Resnais' intention. The film has exquisite cinematography and its accompanying music, while eerie, is somehow befitting of the narrative. Last Year at Marienbad is probably the most unique film to come from the French New Wave. Its abstract nature challenges the audience in ways few other films can. While some may dismiss the film as nothing more than slow paced nonsense, many others including myself consider Resnais' film a masterpiece. Criterion's Blu-ray edition will not disappoint - incredible transfer and well packaged.
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