Last Year at Marienbad
The Criterion Collection, Special Edition
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Not just a defining work of the French New Wave but one of the great, lasting mysteries of modern art, Alain Resnais’ epochal visual poem has been puzzling appreciative viewers for decades. A surreal fever dream, or perhaps a nightmare, Last Year at Marienbad (L’année dernière à Marienbad), written by the radical master of the New Novel, Alain Robbe-Grillet, gorgeously fuses the past with the present in telling its ambiguous tale of a man and a woman (Giorgio Albertazzi and Delphine Seyrig) who may or may not have met a year ago, perhaps at the very same cathedral-like, mirror-bedecked château they now find themselves wandering. Unforgettable in both its confounding details (gilded ceilings, diabolical parlor games, a loaded gun) and haunting scope, Resnais’ investigation into the nature of memory is disturbing, romantic, and maybe even a ghost story.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES: • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Alain Resnais, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack • New audio interview with Resnais • New documentary on the making of Last Year at Marienbad, featuring interviews with many of Resnais’ collaborators • New video interview with film scholar Ginette Vincendeau on the history of the film and its many mysteries • Two short documentaries by Resnais: Toute la mémoire du monde (1956) and Le chant du styrène (1958) • Theatrical trailer • Optional original, unrestored French soundtrack • New and improved subtitle translation • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by critic Mark Polizzotti and film scholar François Thomas, and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s introduction to the published screenplay and comments on the film
Stills from Last Year at Marienbad (Click for larger image)
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Its aesthetic pleasures are numerous. The eerie organ score, often somber but occasionally shrill and cacophonous; those smooth, gliding tracking shots through the lavish hotel; the man's romantic yet forceful attempt at persuading the woman, with several scenes indicating a far darker undercurrent (rape?) possibly hiding beneath the labyrinth of memories; the consistently inventive and startling editing techniques (the glass-shattering scene, for instance); and, of course, Sacha Vierny's cinematography, beautifully taking advantage of the glorious widescreen format.
I could go on, but I won't. This film simply doesn't lend itself well to literal description - yes, yes, I know, the old "but... it's an experience, maaan!" cop-out, etc. But it IS an experience! And what an experience Marienbad is; as I said before, it's completely singular in its hypnotic power, and the oft-maligned solipsistic nature of the film (i.e. a hermetic puzzlebox without any solution) only adds to this effect in my opinion. Simply put, Marienbad is one of the great modernist films, and one of the greatest films, period.
This version of the film is unique in that it offers the viewer both the original and remastered soundtrack. Alain Resnais believed that the remastered versions of soundtracks often sacrificed the range of tonalities found in the originals, and so he stipulated that the viewer have the choice to hear either version when viewing the film.
This disc also offers other extras not found on my VHS tape, such as a new audio interview with the director, and a couple of short documentaries by Resnais, "Le chant du styrene"(1958), and "Toute la memoire du monde"(1956), as well as a documentary about the making of the film, and a new interview with film scholar Ginette Vincendeau.
All in all it's a real treat to finally see this defining avant garde work in Blu-ray.