SOME SWOONS AND SOJOURNS

HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR/ HIROSHIMA, MY LOVE(1959)

It comes as no surprise to me that I received this opportunity to watch an Alain Resnais classic I had practically manifested in my watchlist for over six years till now.

Reading about Marguerite Duras’ THE LOVERS as part of my Postgraduate curriculum, I was constantly drawn to her screenwriting credit for HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR which, buoyed by me learning basic French in an annual course during the same period, gave me an impetus to explore its poetry in images. Once again, poetry here wasn’t about the conceived idea of lovely profusion. It was a gateway towards melancholy and trauma. The extensive reading and visual of its Criterion Collection trailer inspired in me the subconscious idea of how it might look, sound and feel when viewed.

So as I watched it courtesy MUBI few days ago, I was greatly arrested by the end result: a culmination of how it felt through its story and the visual import. My instinctive attraction towards its impressionistic storytelling and documentary roots, given Monsieur Resnais’ own profile in the non-fiction arena, genuinely then found an echo through the chamber of time and mental space in which I had given this scenario, informed by strokes of history and memory, permanence.





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In HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR, the titular city and Nevers in France gradually overlap with their wartime histories to present a fated, intimately fragile saga without any epic sprawl. It’s a tale that maintains, honourably, the languor and labour it requires of shell-shocked mortals to make sense of themselves, when their lives are defined by a culture of evanescence.
Hence the two protagonists here, seemingly star-crossed lovers, retreat into a liminal space where this cross-continental union actually makes them either become the most animated in a sea of limited humanity which is too distant or assume the power of ghost-figures inhabiting a place they definitely don’t call home. Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada are stellar interpreters of this play between lights and shadows, of two personalities that come to adequately represent a post-war reckoning. 

(Also, it is fateful that Ms. Riva received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress almost fifty years later for AMOUR(2012); the word ‘love’ occupying a lifetime’s worth for her)

Here, the subconscious legacy of Ms. Riva’s protagonist is of a grave and empathetic interest to us. Mr. Eiji as the Japanese gentleman becomes a stand-in, almost an incarnate of her lost, dead German lover back in Nevers. She relays her not too distant past to him. Most importantly, he is a sounding board and a patient listener. Photography by Michio Takahashi and Sacha Vierny as well as the musical score by Georges Delerue and Giovanni Fusco lend it the ghostly atmosphere befitting that legacy of war and personal stakes.

If HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR is sensual and equally focused on the architecture and sparse landscape of the city it is set in then as a metaphor, its sublime poetry and narration ultimately make the two characters  ghosts of lost cities. They are impersonations of Hiroshima and Nevers by the time they meet at the Casablanca club in the end and then call each other by their native cities’ names.

It is a memorable experience and quite simply unforgettable.

***


MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS(2007)





Wong Kar Wai’s English language feature MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS was another title I wasn’t ever sure of discovering in its entirety. But like so many of my wishes in life getting manifested in real time, the feature made its way on MUBI last week and I watched it.

One of the reasons for its predictable but amiable charm lies in Norah Jones’ presence as the protagonist, that of a New York based young woman making her way through the world by waiting tables and holding down double shifts in far-away places like Vegas and Memphis. Heartbreak is the catalyst for her moves to these locations but each experience is saddled with encounters, in a short story form where these people show themselves as they are, to her and to us.

Jones is one of my very favourites as a singer and that’s the reason her raw, unaffected turn holds such appeal. She is surrounded by the proven talents of Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman.

The verite style here, though dependent on speech patterns and stock situations befitting a quintessential, rough and tumble American ethos, is neatly divided into half an hour vignettes, spread over one hour and thirty minutes. Jones is modelled as a modern-day angel, traversing the highway to friendship and human vulnerabilities, with the Memphis couple’s unraveling amassing higher emotional stakes than the one with Portman’s lost soul with a heart of gold.

I also loved how Jones comes back to New York and the scenario depicts the cyclical nature of her meeting with Mr. Law’s charming cafe owner from the first half. There are moments that one remembers while also being reminded of Mr. Wai’s editing choices and colour palette in HAPPY TOGETHER. Darius Khondji’s cinematography is wonderful overall.

There’s charm and heartfulness in MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS and while not being particularly novel, it is as sweet as the title and the dynamics explored here among all individuals, trading cynicism for camaraderie.



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