spaces of disclosure

Impressions of distances within and distances beyond. When Hiroshima , Mon Amour came out about fifty years ago, the newsreels were full of Eisenhower being warmly greeted in South Korea, a behavior in sharp contrast to the Japanese who were deemed unsociable and mercurial. The president golfed in Hawaii, a hearty welcome compared to the inhospitability in Okinawa.

The plot of the film is not very complex. Hiroshima is rebuilt more than a decade after its catastrophe and westernized with Hilton style hotels. A French actress who is in the city to make a documentary film on peace fals in love with a Japanese architect. Both are married and though at the end of a halcyon and poignant days their passion has not subsided, their reason reigns and she returns to France. But, on a somewhat different plane, there is a feeling that the lovers are doomed, doomed to drift in each others arms until the end of time, punished with satiety.

---Since the theme of memory and its role in the reconstruction of history is so central in Hiroshima, mon amour I should note one other important context that predates the nouveau roman, Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past 1913-27 (a fuller context would need to go a step further and include the philosopher Henri Bergson, who no doubt influenced Proust's own ideas on memory). Proust's opus novel is structured around two types of memories, "voluntary" and "involuntary." The former is a functional memory at the service of daily needs and immediate perception. Involuntary memory is, to quote Proust, "something that comes unsolicited from the past completely to unsettle the individual in the present." Hiroshima, mon amour employs a similar aesthetic use of memory, with the (personal and historical) past searing into the present. The film shows how history and the past are always seen through present eyes; and likewise the writing of history-as-narrative is wrought with the imperfections of language, memory and history itself.--- Read More:

Through time shift in the film, it is revealed that the actress as a young girl in Nevers during the war had been in love with a German soldier, had been consequently despised, shorn of her hair and driven to insanity by her humiliation and by her grief over her enemy lover’s death. Her disgraced parents had kept her in a cellar, where her screams could not be heard, for two years of nightmare.

At length, when her hair began to grow out and the pain of her bereavement to recede, she began to rise like a pheonix from the Gehenna of her own making. Yet the question presents itself: Was it of her own making any more than Hiroshima’s was of its? She was too young to have had the selflessness to repudiate her first love for the nebulous love of country; her ramparts had been no better defended than Hiroshima’s.

---She can at times be both completely honest and dishonest. She feeds on reinvention, re-creation, fiction, and yet is tormented by a desire for truth. Above all, she seeks freedom, and finds it only through secrets. No one has all the pieces to her, and so she is not possessed. This is her greatest loneliness and her greatest freedom. This stranger will be the only one to whom she has ever spoken the story of her dead German lover. The architect, on the other hand, is a realist, a man who builds and occupies structures. Just as the film focuses during the prelude on the architectonic in its portrayal of urban construction and reconstruction, he too will open up the dichotomy between structure and history, position and its absence. Through its manipulation of time and space, this film seeks to create a space of disclosure. This requires that the ineffable be given a position. This position that denies position must in some sense always come as a betrayal. The film acknowledges itself as this betrayal and in so doing redeems itself.---Read More: image:

In the very opening scenes of the picture, the Japanese reiterates that the woman could not possibly imagine the hell and holocaust after the bombing of Hiroshima, and she insists that she could and did. Later, when the flash backs begin we realize her knowledge derived from her own interior torture. If Hiroshima, Mon Amour is to be interpreted as an allegory, then the architect can be taken to be the new Japan, rising above its dismay and its perdition, committing the act of forgiveness by the act of rebuilding. This reflection makes Eisenhower’s abortive trip to the Orient the more pathetic.


Hiroshima mon amour is a film that proclaims that history will not be possessed, and then proceeds to reflect the shadow of historical truth through the confession of this limitation in narrative cinema. Commissioned to do a documentary film on Hiroshima, Alain Resnais instead made a feature-length drama that questions the very possibility of documenting history. If classical aesthetics in the German idealist tradition situates the question of art within a philosophy of identity, here the same paradoxes are marked within a philosophy of difference. Can the frame present what lies beyond the realm of the sensible: love, catastrophe, and historical truth. Can a film image be considered a presentation? How film presents absence is the broader question of Hiroshima mon amour.

In his biography of Alain Resnais, James Monaco describes the film this way: ‘Hiroshima mon amour is two films, often working against each other’. It is this point of strife that gives the film its metaphysical and erotic tension. The film takes as its centre the question of love and catastrophe, contact and disruption, the play of opposites touching and recoiling, but it does so in a manner in which opposing forces are not conflated upon one another in equivalence, or reconciled and unified. For example, it consists of a dialogue between two nameless lovers, one French and one Japanese; it is set between two cities in two nations; it involves two sets of lovers existing in two different moments of time; it questions the distinction and commingling of fact and fiction; and it brings into friction the image and the word, the horrible and the beautiful. In this film love and catastrophe are shown to coexist, but in a relation of perpetual strife that refuses totality.

…So, to have made the lost German lover into a story is to have betrayed him, to have made him into discourse and turned intimacy into mere narrative; but in so far as one presents the narrative as failure, just as in the sublime, there is a gain through the realization of loss. She will become nameless and forgotten a few years from now, but she will be remembered as ‘the symbol of love’s forgetfulness’. Likewise, Resnais’s work of art, Hiroshima mon amour, serves as the symbol of love’s forgetfulness, and in doing so indirectly achieves love. Read More:

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