Many Years Ago at Marienbad

DATELINE: Classic Movie Requires Another View


The amazing classic French “art” film called Last Year at Marienbad was a tremendous influence on TV commercials. It was too esoteric to do much else for dumb audiences.

Well, the film has been re-mastered—and is stunning to see. The rococo corridors we saunter for long ambling walks are fresh with elegant details.

The narrator with ennui seems even more parfait for the job. And, you cannot find a more stylized actress than Delphine Seyrig. She couldn’t follow up this act with any other film performance, which is a career defining acting job.

You soon are staggered by the actors who wander the hallways making the same comments repeatedly. They never blink. It is rather disconcerting, but Resnais never let them blink in a scene, and most of the time they are moving at a snail’s pace.

We loved the cameo of Alfred Hitchcock to set the tone in the first 15 minutes.

Is it Marienbad or Frederiksbad? The grounds outside the hotel are so bizarre as to fit the nature of the tale.

And, the tale is a ghost story. Long before Stephen King took us to a Colorado haunt, the Marienbad location is even more horrific without one shred of blood. However, there are mysterious deaths. Who shot whom? And who fell off the balustrade?

The game with matchsticks is maddening—and fate.

The characters often refer to seeing phantoms or not being alive. Well, yes, they are all dead, reliving that hideous season when the lake frozen over in 1928, or was it 1929? They have lost track of time for good reason. They keep reliving every creepy moment.

This is a hypnotic and truly overwhelming movie that will be beyond the attention-deficit audiences of today. Watch in small doses. You will fall back under its influence almost immediately—and you will re-live every moment at Marienbad forever. Years will not matter.







Resnais & His Final Act as Director

old actors


Alain Resnais, one of the greatest directors in the history of movies, died on March 1, 2014. Oddly enough, he left one final movie called You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, which we had planned to see for several months before his death. It makes the viewing now all the more spooky.

Resnais made Night and Fog in 1955, the seminal documentary on the Holocaust, shocking for its time, and then reached legendary heights with his mesmerizing Last Year at Marienbad, a conundrum within an enigma about life in a grand hotel in 1929. We always saw it as a grand ghost story, but that’s just our bent. Ghosts are condemned to repeat their history without changing it.

Alas, Resnais found himself copied mostly in style by perfume commercials and Ralph Lauren’s ponderously self-congratulatory intros used to open Downton Abbey. Lauren actually uses the original grand hotel from Marienbad as his backdrop.

The director’s final movie is about a recently dead legendary playwright who gathers together all his best actors who had worked with him for years to view an amateur production of a film they had all appeared in years earlier. They are powerless to stop re-enacting their great roles.

They watch and reenact, better in old age, the same roles, finally pushing young amateurs off the screen and taking over for one last monumental performance. Resnais always loved tableaux and used it in Marienbad to great effect.

Here the actors may be playing themselves or their part in his vision. It’s hard to determine, yet this may be Resnais’ final effort to show that there is little separation between art and life, even years after the art has moved on and the actors retired.

Ghosts never die and may only remain as shadows on celluloid.

Resnais melds opulence and austerity of style to present his final vision. You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet may be as unseen as Marienbad by a new undiscriminating generation, but artistic visions are not part of cartoon movie culture.

Alain Resnais was never just another director.