Hiroshima Mon Amour

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Alain Resnais 1959 Fr: script Margaruite Duras: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada

Viewed 7 May 06 at Curzon Mayfair;
double Resnais bill; ticket price – £6-50

One of Resnais’ protagonists is
French from Nevers, staying at the New Hiroshima Hotel in Hiroshima
whilst working as an actress making a movie about peace; the other is
an architect from Hiroshima having an affair with her whilst his wife
is away. There is no story as such – only a strip of action. Two
people come together in this town 13 years after it was blasted by
the atomic bomb.

The concern of Resnais (R ) is to probe
into the mechanisms of deterritorialised memory. The first section
of the film probes how memory when detached from its locus in the
personal becomes the basis of new kinds of activities or even
industries. The Auschwitz industry, the Hiroshima industry,
industries based on the endless mechanical replay of atrocity
footage, industries based on a certain assumptions about the nature
of memory.

The opening sequence of HMA intercuts
images of post bomb survivors with images of the couple entwined in
bed: the interweaving of their arms and legs the sensuous patina of
their skins providing ironic counterpoint to the burnt blistered
twisted torsos of the victims. Resnais assembled this opening
montage to shock. But not to shock with the intention of creating in
the viewer pornographic retinal excitement. To shock in order to
provoke us to think. To think about the nature of the victim
imagery and how it is actually internalised by the watcher. The
voices of the lovers intoning Duras’ singular script are laid over
the visuals: she says, today I went to the museum, he replies, there
is no museum; she says, I’ve seen everything, he replies you’ve
seen nothing. Image generated consciousness cannot replace memory.
In actual memory there is some essence that is generically somatic.

The opening sequence with visuals
accompanied by a sound world of voices invokes the idea that mostly
we do not have memory of terrible events; we only have received
images derived from terrible events. We can respond by saying that
from those images this was a terrible event. But how we incorporate
these pictures into our beings or into our psyches is neither
straight forward rational nor predictable. In the current state of
an informational world overloaded with images competing to be part of
our memories, R’s film uses images to question the validity of
image as a source of derived memory of events. R has grasped the type
of distortion that takes place when actual images of atrocity are
exploited for their inherent potential to create a bank of memories
representative of events for those who did not experience them. The
intention and rationale of such a bank may be that these image
derived experiences will act in the future as an atrocity
prophylactic. In fact the detachment of the images from their
anchoring in consciousness simply opens the door to manifold
manipulations and banality. It is a short step to the ‘See it all
Hiroshima Bus Tour’, and the souvenir shop. Detached from the
individual minds and psyches of those who suffered such experiences,
events as museum experiences, offer to the visitor’s gaze a series
of emotional charges empty of primary signification and open to
exploitation and manipulation. There is no evidence that individuals
experiencing emotional arousal in the face of such stimuli connect
with such stimuli in the prophylactic manner intended. There is no
evidence that these institutions actually work to prevent further

By 1959 R has become aware that human
memory has become subject to new and changed forms of appropriation.
In a society characterised by control, memory is now something that
is manufactured by the powerful forces of vested interest and large
corporations. History becomes a theme park, part of the heritage
industry. Auschwitz and Hiroshima are tourist destinations which
people visit. When they visit they are presented with a certain
account of the past. It is not that these accounts are certain types
of constructs that is of concern. Everything said is probably true.
Rather it’s that museum presentations, as public relations
exercises will be mounted in such a way that certain types of
questions cannot be asked of the event and that certain kinds of
contradictions inherent in the events will be excised. The
attraction will concentrate on exhibits arranged in a simple and
emotionally charged form. They claim to promote understanding, but
will guilefully suggest a single reading of the past and present of
which the atrocity is the link. A visit to a tourist atrocity
attraction will usually provide only an emotional account of an
event; it will not address simple and real questions of why. Why
questions don’t have easy answers, require context and lines of
enquiry. Tourists demand an experience and in response to this
demand they are given images that overwhelm and flatten leaving them
emotionally drained and either oversensitised or insensate. Images
manipulate us, use us and refer only to themselves. Suffering can
only be suffering; death can only be death. Why? is too
uncomfortable as a question and draws us into examination of

In the age of mass communication memory
is now a battleground. What dictates what we remember how we
remember and why we remember? Resnais in Hiroshima Mon Amour is
asking the questions and responding by pointing to the difference
between human personal memory and the manufactured.

The second strand in the film develops
the obverse story of the woman, opening out into the her remembered
experience in Nevers as an ajudged wartime collaborator who is
ritually humiliated and punished for loving a German soldier. Again
we have to refer to memory and its linkage to the archive footage.
We have all seen the footage of the Liberation of France in’44. If
we haven’t it’s of HMA. At the core of this footage, after the
tiumphant parade of the GI’s through the cheering crowds, comes the
next bit of action: the moment of calling the guilty to account. And
at this point in the archive memory movie we always see the fury of
the woman as takes they take their revenge on sex. It’s like a
ritualised response which has its roots in very early primitive
European culture, the cult of the sacrifice of the young virgins –
Iphigenia. The French vented their fury on the young girls who
fucked the Bosch instead of fighting them. They are caste down by
the female avenging furies, they are beaten, have their heads shaved
and their brats taken from them. In the movies the presentation of
righteous indignation complete with gloating male commentary tells
the story and underlines its moral. There is no place for personal
memory. And those who might have personal memory – of a young German
boy – have no right to such memories. They only have a right to see
themselves in the image of their shame. As sinners punished they see
their role played out over and over again in the newsreel. The
actress with her Japanese lover, the other enemy, calls up for him
her personal memories in defiance of the images that control her
past. This strand of the film with her personal memory actualised in
flashbacks that are melodramatically realised, is less taut than the
Hiroshima thread but critical to completing the thesis of R’s film.

From his experience in making
documentary films, R realised that we were entering a completely new
era in the relationship between individuals and the projected images
amongst which they lived and believed. Images purporting to be
actual were both defining of events and defining of the people caught
up in those events.

The young woman has a collective
memory of an event of which she as a young woman played a part. Her
situation is that although she has images that are personal they do
not reconcile with what happened to her. Memory cannot connect with
event. She herself is deterritorialised from Nevers, alienated from
herself as a child. This strand of HMA feels less at ease with
itself than the Hiroshima strand because R the melodramatic nature of
the images of the forbidden lovers sits less happily with the formal
concerns of the film, and it is during these sequences that the film
seems to waver in intensity. But for the film to be complete the two
sides of the coin of memory need to be addressed. As the
generalised somatic memory is distorted by its own images so personal
memory with its own images can be distorted and twisted by the


Author: Adrin Neatrour

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