February Issue 2013
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), directed by Alain Resnais, is a love story containing a powerful anti-war message. Despite its criticism of US foreign policy (although not explicitly), it earned Marguerite Duras an Academy Award nomination for her screenplay. Hiroshima Mon Amour is also lauded for its non-linear style and use of flashbacks. Though this style is common in films today, Resnais was among the first few directors to follow in the footsteps of other notable directors such as Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa and make use of this technique.
Considered a landmark in French New Wave cinema, the film covers universal themes of love, war, death and the trauma of personal and collective loss. All these issues are explored under the theme of memory, and the weight it carries. Hiroshima Mon Amour carries one overarching message: that although it may be burdensome to remember, it is disastrous to forget.
The narration and majority of the dialogue in Hiroshima is spoken by a French actress simply known as Elle (She), with brief interjections and responses by her Japanese lover, Liu (He). In a montage scene, including clips of a museum recreating the horror of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Elle remembers the suffering of the Japanese people. Later we learn that she is also mourning for herself and a German soldier she once loved during the war, as much as the Japanese victims. She is a casualty of war, in search of other victims to immerse herself in their grief. She battles against forgetting, not only out of respect for the memory of those who passed away, but in fear of repeating the past again-the fear of another war, and the fear of loving so intensely and losing again. The museum itself is a monument of the past, lest we forget.
There is vagueness in her narration, as it drifts back and forth from the past to the present, much akin to how memory fades and then comes back to life again in our minds, only to be forgotten yet again. Time goes by. Elle’s hair, that was shaven off during her time of madness, grows back. The plants of Hiroshima grow back. Bodies and histories come together and separate again. The past is forgotten, but it’s never a clean break, as it continues to haunt the present.
The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.