I guess it is fitting, in my own morbid way, that I would imprint a recent memory of my own on a film all about memory. Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour will always have a unique place in my heart, but not for the reasons you may think. While no doubt a picture that is probably a staple on most film school curriculums, the film lingers in my mind not for the war that serves as the narrative’s jumping off point, but for the one that I witnessed prior to screening the film.
Okay, using the term “war” in relation to a sporting event might be a bit much.
While the Blind Spot Series was designed as a way to catch up on films that, for whatever reason, we have been meaning to see but missed, it is also about the experience that comes with watching these particular films. In this instance the experience is strongly tied to the sport of baseball. I decided to pop in Hiroshima Mon Amour while on a high after watching the epic Game 5 playoff match between the Texas Rangers and my beloved Toronto Blues Jays. It was a game for the ages. One that not only recalled fond childhood memories of watching the Jays’ World Series runs in 1992 and 1993, but also unified a country in a remarkable way.
Unable to go to sleep, my adrenaline was racing faster than a weightlifter on steroids, and with visions of the game still dancing in my head, I opted to use Resnais’ film as a palette cleanser of sorts. However, I was not expecting how drastic that cleanse would be. On a rapturous night that will be seared into the minds of both Canadians and baseball fans everywhere, Renais offered me a more sorrowful exploration of the way memories become a crucial part of our existence.
For the characters in Hiroshima Mon Amour, the recollection of the past is not only painful, but also threatens to impede on their future as well. There is a moment early on in the narrative where the French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) at heart of the film states “it will begin again.” The woman, who is in Hiroshima filming a movie, is clearly commenting on the repeating nature of war. After all, the haunting devastation of the 1945 bombing still reverberates in the region. However, when observing the film on the whole, it becomes apparent that she might also be referring to the forbidden relationship she finds herself in.
The bulk of the narrative follows the woman as she tries to navigate her feelings for a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada), a man who she meets a day before she is set to return to France. Both individuals are married, but their passionate encounter stirs up emotions that run deeper than a mere one-night stand. For the woman, in particular, the affair ignites memories of a romance she once had with a German soldier that resulted in her being ostracized by her parents and the locals in her hometown of Nevers, France.
I must admit the way Renais juxtaposes the couple’s relationship with the horrors of war caught me off-guard at first. There was something both hypnotic and jarring about hearing the pair discuss the bombing of Hiroshima as Renais cuts between images of them in a passionate embrace and newsreel footage of those wounded by the atomic bomb. Similar to the actress herself, who is filming an international film about peace, Renais’ anti-war commentary flows through every crevice of the film. However, even in the grim aftermath of war, Hiroshima Mon Amour is powerfully optimistic in the strength of love.
There is something oddly charming about the way in which the actress and the architect interact. When not trying to refute some of the things about Hiroshima that she claims to see and know, the man relentlessly pursues her. He is willing to take a risk on their love, but she needs convincing. The harsh memories of her past relationship are hard to shake. This is especially evident when, in a voice over, she confesses to cheating on her past love by sharing “our story” with someone else. It is here when the intimacy of memory in Renais’ film is most pronounced. That which is special, be it a fond recollection or a horrific one, latches onto us in ways that few can understand.
Hiroshima Mon Amour, just like the somber waters it bathes in, flows at a languid pace. Similar to the memories we hold dear, be it a bat-filp after a game changing homerun or the caress of a former love, the film lingers in the mind. The question is, do we let these memories hold us back or, like love itself, do we find strength in them.