“History is written by the victors” — a handy, hoary truism generally applied to politics, warfare, and the struggle among nations for preeminence on the world stage, but perhaps equally applicable to the stories we tell about our own lives and relationships. Such is (one of) the proposition(s) explored by “the two Alains,” director Alain Resnais and novelist-turned-screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet, in their seminal collaboration LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, which screens tonight at the HFA as part of its ongoing Resnais tribute.
Without ever getting to know anything about them, we accompany an unnamed man and woman (Giorgio Albertazzi and Delphine Seyrig, identified in the screenplay as X and A, respectively) on a vertiginous perambulation through an ever-shifting labyrinth of memory and abstraction, while also traversing the scrupulously observed, thoroughly concrete hallways of a vast castle-turned-hotel that serves as a retreat for the European elite, a set of immaculate mannequins immersed in gossip and idle diversion. Our beautiful cipher protagonists engage in a war, or a game, of their own, staged (for the film, but also in the play-within-the-film) as a non-linear welter of upended chronology, unsynced bursts of incantatory dialogue, and dueling reminiscences, to determine whether they met the year before, in the same place (maybe Marienbad, maybe not), and fell in love, or else into violence, and whether they arranged to meet again the next year (this year?) in the same place (wherever that was) to run away together. Their contest of wills casts persuasion as seduction, and vice versa, while obsessively iterating a debate about form and fate. If the truth of a tale is in its telling, a certain relentlessness of repetition may be required. Play it again, Sam, by way of illustration.
You’re likely to emerge from the HFA elated and eager to assert your own version of what the hell you just saw — hardly surprising when you consider that the two Alains never entirely agreed on what it was that they’d made. Shot in sumptuous black-and-white and stylized to the teeth — no one who grew up with Helmut Newton photos or Calvin Klein perfume ads will miss the resemblance — LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD remains a maddeningly irreducible puzzle, and a blood-freezingly good time.
6/27 – 7PM
Harvard Film Archive
24 Quincy St
Cambridge, MA 02138