Tonight I watched for the second time the Alain Resnais film “Hiroshima, Mon Amour.” The first time was when it was released in 1960. I was a junior at Northwestern University where the Evanston movie houses were in love with foreign film. I saw it alone. It had a huge impact which I’ve carried embedded in me for the rest of my life, but particularly in the Sixties in Browning. I mean, I came with a high awareness of the American prairie genocide coupled with the belief that frail human abilities to love and to witness can have some impact on the future. Or even the present. It was a moral principle and it has not worn away.
If I were to make a film like this one today, it would be about a Native American and a white -- doesn’t matter which gender is which. It would show an intimacy of grief against the horrific tragedy of genocide that could be as easily filmed as between two gay men facing AIDS. The cherished memories of the forbidden lover die all over again in the implacable tide of life going on. But for a brief time -- 36 hours in the case of this French actress who has fallen in love with a Japanese architect -- something forever lost is rekindled. Then lost again, but this time closer to being resolved.
One person claims to know the other person’s tragedy, but that cannot be true. The Japanese man insists that the French woman does NOT know the truth about Hiroshima, though like a good liberal she has made it a point to face all the facts. Seeing photos of people cooked alive, looking at piles of hair fallen out overnight, seeing the silhouettes etched on stone walls because living people in their deaths served as stencils, is not enough. The smells, the sounds, the stunning surprise, the horrific erasure of a city, are worn away now. The ones who really knew are gone. We are left with a blizzard of origami cranes. A fancy parade. Waiting for the next bomb. Which is as likely to be dropped on us, not them. Or maybe this time the airplane will simply crash into a building.
Around here we are familiar with the white person, often a German or French person, usually female, claiming she knows all about Indians and truly understands their lives. Of course, that’s ridiculous. Nevertheless, there are no less than THREE movies shooting here. I looked them up on imdb.com.
“Cut Bank,” (Dwayne McLaren has been looking for a way out of his small town upbringing of CUT BANK, MT since he graduated high school several years earlier. When he finds himself in the wrong place at the right time, he jumps at a chance to pursue a better life in a bigger city with his girlfriend Cassandra. But luck doesn't exist in Cut Bank, and this perceived good fortune is quickly followed by a flood of bad karma.)
“Winter in the Blood.” (Virgil First Raise wakes with a shiner and a hangover in a roadside ditch on the stark but beautiful plains of Montana. As he rises to face the day he sees a vision of his father lying dead at his feet. Impossible-- his father froze to death in a snowdrift years earlier. Virgil returns home to find that his wife, Agnes, has left him. Worse, she's taken his electric razor and his beloved rifle. Virgil sets out to find her-- beginning a hi-line odyssey of inebriated encounters, sexual skirmishes, and improbable cloak-and-dagger intrigues with the mysterious 'Airplane Man'. Virgil's quest also brings him face-to-face with childhood memories and visions of his beloved, lost brother Mose-- some glorious, some tragic. Only when Virgil seeks the counsel of an old, blind man named Yellow Calf, does he grasp the truth of his origins and begin to thaw the ice in his veins.)
“Jimmy Picard” is a movie being made by Benicio Del Toro and a French director/writer/cinematographer I don’t know, Arnaud Desplechin. It’s drawn from a book that I’ve owned for decades and will review later: “Reality and Dream: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” by George Devereux. Published in 1951, it is an early attempt to understand the impact of trauma, both from hardship and abuse and from war combat. I always knew it was about a Blackfeet but thought that “Devereaux” (which turns out to be a “chosen” name) was Metis. Actually the author/therapist/anthropologist was French. The Indian’s name is “Everybody Talks About,” a name I’ve written into a classroom grade book more than once. Quite apt this time. I don’t think he’s living.
“Hiroshima, Mon Amour” is also directed and sort of “devised” by a famous Frenchman, Alain Renais, who had just finished a documentary film about the German Holocaust. The script is by Marguerite Duras. At first “Hiroshima” was supposed to be a documentary about remembering the Atom Bomb drop, but we’re told that gradually the center of gravity changed during development to the relationship between two tragedies: that of an obliterated city over against the woman’s first love, a personal loss that pitched her into madness. In their sharing, the lovers transcend in some small part what cannot ever be diminished or forgotten. It remains an impossible tension, as unresolvable in personal life as in the public mind. And yet the forgetting begins at once.
The French and the Germans have always had a love affair with the Plains Indians. Devereaux suggests this is because their values are similar. He speaks of the “plumed Sioux.” The actress who played the Frenchwoman is in her Seventies now and unrecognizable. Her movies are not known in the States. The actor who played the Japanese man is dead. He made many movies known here, like “Woman in the Dunes” and “The Ugly American.” Another more recent film based on Marguerite Duras’ writing is “The Lover,” which is close to autobiographical. It is a much easier film, sensual and modern. “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” was ground-breaking, an early sound film in black-and-white. I dislike the bombastic melodramatic sound track, but I’m not sure it would be possible to produce a remake. Too many people in international peace movements hold it in their minds as an icon. To change the movie would be like forgetting. Anyway, mine is a minority opinion -- many admire it.
To watch this movie with the commentary is to have an excellent lesson in movie-making, the things like cutting and framing. More than that, this is a seamless, intense, inevitable story that remains ironically unforgettable after all.