Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Last Year at Marienbad

The setting for "Last Year at Marienbad" is a grand old European hotel that has long corridors and large public rooms. Chandeliers hang from ornate ceilings and cut-glass mirrors, prints, and old paintings adorn walls. The hotel guests are all very elegant, and their clothing and hair styles suggest that the time is about 1960. The atmosphere is funereal.
Names aren't given for the characters, so I came up with my own way for referring to them. The man who does the brooding voice-over is the film's protagonist, who I call the Narrator (Giorgio Albertazzi). The Narrator is obsessed with an attractive female guest, who I call the Woman (Delphine Seyrig). But the Woman didn't come to the hotel alone—she's there with a gaunt male I'll call the Other Man (Sacha Pito).
The movie follows a simple story, The Narrator expresses disappointment that the Woman acts as though she doesn't recognize him, and he talks in detail about the intimacy they shared at a resort hotel a year earlier. He says they parted with the understanding that he would not see her for a year, and he declares he's now come for her. He begs her to leave with him, and she appears to be considering it, although she seems conflicted. Meanwhile, the presence of the Other Man at the hotel complicates life for both the Woman and the Narrator.
I think "Last Year at Marienbad" is visually amazing by any standard. One memorable sequence is presented in the style of a silent movie: the Woman, wearing ostrich feathers, reacts to the arrival in her bedroom of the Narrator, sometimes she cringes at his approach, at other times she spreads her arms wide in welcome. The film's most famous shot is reminiscent of a painting by Giorgio de Chirico: in a rigidly formal garden, people cast shadows, but statues and shrubs do not.

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