Apologies for any whiplash injuries induced by me going straight from Chocolate Disco to one of the artiest art films of the Nouvelle vague, L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad), a film that it’s right to regard as one of the art films that gave art films a bad name in the view of some people. To those who love it, it’s an endlessly enigmatic, crystalline puzzle that almost exists outside of time even though it’s also very much of its time. To those who hate it, the film is infuriatingly pretentious, maddeningly French, an interminable screen saver, a bore, celluloid laced with Tramadol.
I’m in the former category. Like a weirdo I watch this film without fail every few months or so and I always feel the way I imagine some people do going to church. To me, spending time with this film is akin to a form of communion or meditation.
Obviously it brings out the pretentious twat in me as well. I can only apologise for the previous paragraph.
The film’s three main characters are unnamed diegetically, but in the credits and the screenplay they’re given the tellingly algebraic names A (the woman, played by the beautiful Delphine Seyrig), X (the man, played by the beautiful Giorgio Albertazzi) and M (the second man who has some kind of hold over A– marital or otherwise– played by the cadaverous, almost Karloff-esque Sacha Pitoeff). One day I’d like to do a screening of it where the audience is all in evening wear, smashes glasses, wraps themselves in boas, throws shoes and exclaims “Laissez moi!” (etc) along with it, like a miserablist version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
L’Année dernière… revolves around a nominal plotline of X attempting to convince A that the two of them had some kind of relationship, an affair that A either affects not to remember or genuinely doesn’t. And that’s pretty much your lot as narrative goes: all else is mathematical games reiterated conceptually, cinematically and literally as X and M play through and sublimate their rivalry and aggression into a version of the incredibly ancient game of Nim. Formally dressed people carouse listlessly in baroque, mirrored rooms or freeze in place like automata whose clockwork has run down. They have conversations that don’t match the movements of their mouths. They carouse constantly but never get drunk. They visit the shooting range and the spectre of violence– sexual and otherwise– keeps bobbing up as a possibility, only to be thwarted in what seems like a deliberate and perverse opposition to Chekhov’s rule of the gun in storytelling: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
This film is full of Chekhovian guns that either never go off, or go off in some kind of bizarre many universes quantum physics Schrödinger’s box superpositioned way- they go off and they don’t, A really did have an affair with X, and she also never met him before, and M killed her, and X is a nutty, fantasising stalker who’s trying to brainwash and manipulate a mentally unstable woman with memory problems, and she left M for another man, and perhaps everybody here is already dead anyway. Continue Reading