Acclaimed French film director Alain Resnais has passed away at the age of 91 in Paris. Ironically, his death coincides with the annual presentation of the Academy Awards when the eyes of the world are on the film industry. A giant of the film industry, many film lovers will be saddened by the news that Alan Resnais, film director, is dead at 91.
Resnais was known for such films as Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad. Still an active filmmaker at his age, his most recent work, Life of Riley, based on an Alan Ayckbourn play, received kudos at the Berlin Film Festival last February where it premiered. In fact, Resnais was actively working on scripts from his hospital bed before he passed away, according to his producer Jean-Louis Livi, who was working with him.
Born in 1922 in Vannes, Morihan, France, Resnais directed nearly 50 feature films. He was part of the so-called French New Wave film movement. He first came to the attention of the film world in 1955 with the documentary Night and Fog, which explored Nazi concentration camps.
Perhaps his best-known film was Hiroshima Mon Amour in 1959, starring Emmanuelle Riva, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. The movie was about a French actress who was lensing an anti-war film in Hiroshima who has an affair with a Japanese architect who is married. They each offer their own perspectives on war. Using flashbacks the film offered a non-linear storyline and focused on memory and forgetfulness. Resnais wanted to explore the horrors of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima, Japan but wanted to do it without showing any footage of the event or dramatizing it.
Perhaps the most influential work of Alain Resnais was Last Year at Marienbad in 1961. It was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. Starring Delphine Seyrig and Giorgio Albertazzi, the film was about a man and a woman who may or may not have met at a place called Marienbad. The film’s narrative structure was dreamlike with truth and fiction and reality and unreality difficult to figure out. The movie also twisted conventional time and spatial relationships.
Both Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad are considered two of the best and most influential foreign films of all time, according to many film critics. The French New Wave refers to French filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s who rejected the then current paradigm of novel based filmmaking for more provocative, adventurous films that explored current social and political issues. At the same time, these filmmakers began innovating with storytelling style. The cinematography was almost documentary like, and there was novel editing and long takes. The films also bent narrative rules with regards to linear storytelling and surreal depictions.
Not every critic hailed Alain Resnais. Some found his films incomprehensible while others thought he was a genius.
Directors most associated with the French New Wave include Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Goddard, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivetter.
Other films in the Alain Resnais filmography include Muriel, or the Time of Return, Stavisky and Je t’aime Je t’taime. His most recent film was Life of Riley, about two people who learn that their friend is diagnosed with a fatal illness and only has months to live. The film stars his wife of many years Sabine Azema.
Resnais, who received a lifetime achievement award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, did not like to be characterized as one type of filmmaker with one style. In fact, he directed a very diverse set of films including Smoking/No Smoking in 1999, Mon Oncle d’Amerique in 1980 and Providence in 1977.
On the day of the Academy Awards, many attendees at the ceremony, as well as viewers, will remember Alan Resnais, film director, who is dead at 91.
By Jim McCullaugh