Hiroshima Mon Amour is an acclaimed 1959 drama/romance film directed by French film director Alain Resnais, with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras. It is about a relationship between a French woman and a Japanese man. It was one of the first French New Wave films and made innovative use of flashbacks.
Hiroshima Mon Amour concerns the experiences of a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva), referred to as Elle (she), who performs the role of a nurse in a film being shot in post-war Hiroshima. She meets a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada), referred to as Lui (him) and, separated from their spouses, they become lovers. The early part of the film recounts, in the style of a documentary, but narrated by the so far completely unidentified characters, the effects of the Hiroshima bomb on August 6, 1945, in particular the loss of hair and the complete anonymity of the remains of some victims. The man had been conscripted into the Japanese army, and his family were in Hiroshima on that day.
Using flashbacks intercut into the love story set in 1959 — the couple's meetings in hotel rooms and restaurants — the woman relates for the first time her experiences during World War II in Nevers, where she was involved with a young German soldier during the German occupation. She suffered the humiliation of women who had colluded with the enemy, a severe almost bald haircut, before leaving for Paris, her hair regrown, and her anonymity regained. He urges her to stay in Hiroshima, but the situation is untenable.
According to James Monaco, Resnais was originally commissioned to make a short documentary about the atomic bomb, but spent several months confused about how to proceed because he did not want to recreate his 1955 Holocaust documentary Night and Fog. He later went to his producer and joked that the film could not be done unless Marguerite Duras was involved in writing the screenplay.
The film was a co-production by companies from both Japan and France. The producers stipulated that one main character must be French and the other be Japanese, and also required that the film be shot in both countries employing film crews comprising technicians from each.
Hiroshima Mon Amour has been described as "The Birth of a Nation of the French New Wave" by American critic Leonard Maltin. New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard described the film's inventiveness as "Faulkner plus Stravinsky" and celebrated its originality, calling it "the first film without any cinematic references".
Filmmaker Eric Rohmer said, "I think that in a few years, in ten, twenty, or thirty years, we will know whether Hiroshima mon amour was the most important film since the war, the first modern film of sound cinema".
Among the film's innovations is Resnais' experiments with very brief flashback sequences intercut into scenes to suggest the idea of a brief flash of memory. Resnais later used similar effects in Last Year at Marienbad.
In his book on Resnais, James Monaco ends his chapter on Hiroshima mon Amour by claiming that the film contains a reference to the classic 1942 film Casablanca:
|“||Here is an 'impossible' love story between two people struggling with the imagery of a distant war. At the end of this romantic, poignant movie about leave takings and responsibilities, the two fateful lovers meet in a cafe. Resnais gives us a rare establishing shot of the location. 'He' is going to meet 'She' for the last time at a bar called 'The Casablanca' - right here in the middle of Hiroshima! It's still the same old story. A fight for love and glory. A case of do or die. The world will always welcome lovers. As time goes by.|
In Japan Journals: 1947-2004, film historian Donald Richie tells in an entry for 25 January 1960 of seeing the film in Tokyo and remarks on various distracting (for the Japanese) cultural errors which Resnais made. He notes, for example, that the Japanese-language arrival and departure time announcements in the train scenes bear no relation to the time of day in which the scenes are set. Also, people pass through noren curtains into shops which are supposedly closed. The noren is a traditional sign that a shop is open for business and is invariably taken down at closing time.
Hiroshima mon Amour earned an Oscar nomination for screenwriter Marguerite Duras, as well as a special award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, where the film was excluded from the official selection because of its sensitive subject matter as well as to avoid upsetting the U.S. government.
Songs inspired by the film
The film has inspired several songs. One was written by John Foxx and Billy Currie, and initially recorded and performed by their band Ultravox! in 1977. One recorded version of the song is a romantic electronic ballad, notable for showcasing an early use of a drum machine in popular music. Ultravox! also recorded a different arrangement of the song, in an aggressive punk style. This version was covered by the band The Church.
The heavy metal band Alcatrazz also recorded a song titled "Hiroshima Mon Amour" on their debut album, No Parole from Rock N' Roll.
In 2003, the New York-based no wave band My Favorite released "Burning Hearts," which draws upon the main characters in the film.
Punk rock band The (International) Noise Conspiracy's album The Cross of My Calling features a song entitled "Hiroshima Mon Amour."
In 2002 Bryan Ferry released the album Frantic which includes the song "Hiroshima", where the chorus includes the full sentence of "Hiroshima Mon Amour".
Cinema inspired by the film
In 2001, Japanese film director Nobuhiro Suwa directed a remake, titled H Story.
In 2003 Iranian film director Bahman Pour-Azar released Where Or When. The 85-minute film places Pour-Azar's characters in the same circumstances as Resnais' nearly a half century earlier. However, the current global tension of today's world is the backdrop instead of post-war Hiroshima. When screening the film Stuart Alson, who founded The New York Independent Film and Video Festival, said that the piece was "a parallel line of work with the French masterpiece "Hiroshima Mon Amour".