A milestone in French cinema, Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1960) was a cinematic exercise in what can be done with a film. His characters have no names, their identities are mysteries, and what space they occupy will change in the blink of an eye. Describing the story seems pointless, because this is in no ways a plot film. It is more an experiment in how to tell a story.
Resnais was already hot in the cinematic world for his breakthrough Hiroshima Mon Amour, released one year prior. This film takes some of it's style from there, but whearas that film eventually settled into a love story, this film never does quite find it's plot. Instead it's details are unravelled like a mystery that has no intention of being solved. We are left with a vast array of clues rather than any concrete explanation. And by the end of the film we don't really care. There is no point in learning whether or not the supposed love affair occured, who this guy is who keeps insisting that it does and why can/can't the female remember.
I tried to pay attention to the structure of the film this time around, but couldn't really discover any clues. The game played with cards I couldn't figure. I couldn't tell if there was some significance to the card sequencing, or if the point was to show how impossible it was for the mysterious "M" to lose. Perhaps it is this impossibility to lose that makes the most sense, because he is the one with "A". If she runs away, it will be his loss, and she can't run away, so is this game equating that the man can't lose anything? That's a lame interpretation I must admit, but for now that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
It's clear to see the fascination with the hotel Marienbad. It's corridors never end, and the camera never runs out of places to visit. In fact I can't recall the camera actually staying still for any scenes in the film. It is constantly tracking, panning, or zooming, there are no static shots. With a set this grand, you can see why cinematographer Sacha Vierny wants to roam.
What makes this film Resnais is something to examine in and of itself. Resnais was never really a screenwriter, and this film was written solely by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Yet somehow it fits perfectly into Resnais' catalogue. He never tired of experimenting with space and time. His future films never logically unravel plot, and although most of his later work had a more cohesive structure to it, this film was in many ways an indicator of his films in teh future. There is a Resnais style, and it is very evident in this film.
The hypnotic grace however may be misleading. I nearly fell asleep the first time I watched the film, and on a second viewing felt my eyes getting heavy once more. Films with this sort of deliberate pace (another way of saying they're slow) can do that. They are so hypnotic that they occasionally lull you to sleep. I can't necessarily say Marienbad is Resnais best film, but it is the most realized Resnais film. It is the most pure representation of the kind of filmmaker he is. The film one should point to in trying to assess his style and what makes him an autuer.