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PH Ticker: Alain Resnais, Berlinale 2014, the Oscars

The Ticker, Mast

The Berlinale, the first “grand slam” in the festival circuit, ended on February 16, 2014.

1) Dao Yinan’s Black Coal, Thin Ice won the Golden Bear with actor Liao Fan collecting he Silver Bear for Best Actor.

2) The films that played in competition included titles from Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Richard Linklater’s decade-in-the-making Boyhood, Yoji Yamada’s The Little House, and new titles from Lou Ye, Dominick Graf, and the film that is now Alain Resnais’ final work, Aimer, boire et chanter (Life of Riley).

3) Outside of competition, the current favorite little-film-that-could from India, Imtiaz Ali’s Highway played in the Panorama section. Other titles in that section was Tsai Ming-liang’s Journey to the West, and Michel Gondry’s animated conversation with Noam Chomsky, Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?




Alain Resnais’ passing on March 2nd has brought out a series of tributes around the net. Including one from our own website.

1) MUBI has started its own round-up, featuring links of old articles it has online. I especially recommend, Ehsan Khoshbakht’s study of photographs from Resnais’ collection Repérages, if only for bringing into light Resnais’ less well known career as a photograph and illustrator.

2) Glenn Kenny has reposted a recent 2007 interview conducted with Resnais on phone, capturing the master’s charm and kindness.

3) Jonathan Rosenbaum has also started rounding up earlier articles on Resnais, including a piece on Resnais’ recent films, which has the revelation that the screenwriter, “Alex Reval”, on Resnais’ Les herbes folles and Vous n’avez rien encore vu are no one but Resnais himself.


1) Within France, President François Hollande acknowledges the loss of a cultural treasure. “He constantly renewed genres. Each of his films was an innovation. He constantly broke codes, rules and patterns while appealing to a wide audience. He also helped generations of actors and technicians with whom he worked to give their best. He has always been loved by them.”

2)  Gilles Jacob, outgoing director of the Cannes Film Festival, insisted that France declare a National Funeral, comparable to the public mourning of Fellini in Italy, neglecting to do so, he says, would be “an abandonment of glory”. Thierry Fremaux, present Cannes Director, notes “As Billy Wilder said of Lubitsch’s death, ‘No More Resnais.’ But beyond that, ‘No More Resnais Films.” Fremaux also noted that Resnais, “talked a lot about others’ films. He would say, ‘Making films is fine, but seeing films is even better.’”

3) Resnais edited Agnes Varda’s very first feature, La Pointe courte. Varda remembers him: “I’ll never forget his punctuality, his patience and respect for my clumsy film. It’s his generosity that impressed me the most in this film adventure, where money was lacking. Alain Resnais meant a lot to me at an age where we’re still struggling to define ourselves. We shared a taste for surrealism, Italian painting and wordplay.”

4) The last two years has seen the passing of several luminaries, Chris Marker and Theo Angelopoulos (2012), Patrice Chéreau (2013) and in 2014 so far, both Resnais and Miklós Jancsó, who died on January 31, 2014. Jancsó’s long takes prefigures the style of Béla Tarr who once noted his mentor planned to cast him in the role of Jesus Christ. Jancsó’s epochal films of the 60s and 70s, The Red and the White, Silence and Cry, The Round-Up, Red Psalm are ripe for rediscovery.

Miklos Jancsó (1921 - 2014)

Miklos Jancsó (1921 – 2014)

5) Early February usually features the Oscar ceremony once again making a pitch for its relevance; this year the Winter Olympics in Sochi moved the ceremony to early March. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave won awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay while Alfonso Cuaron collected Best Director and alongside Mark Sanger, won another Oscar for Best Editing, with Gravity winning 5 other technical awards. Paolo Sorrentino won Best Foreign Film for La grande bellezza. In a slight upset, Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet from Stardom won Best Documentary over Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. Spike Jonze won Best Original Screenplay for Her.



Sudarshan Ramani

Resnais and Guillaume

Statues Also Die

One of the most beautiful pearls of observation on the nature of cinema comes from the great Alain Robbe-Grillet. An exceptional novelist and an extraordinary film-maker himself, he had written the film Last Year at Marienbad as a complete outsider, breaking rules screenwriters are supposed to follow, like not specifying camera placements and shot descriptions. On seeing the finished film, Robbe-Grillet noted that Alain Resnais did not divert in any significant form from his screenplay but somehow, the finished film was unmistakably a Resnais film, a great validation of Godard’s dictum in his notes on Contempt that anything filmed was automatically different from anything written.

It also describes Resnais’ style, invisible yet omnipresent. In his long career and lifetime, Alain Resnais has in the words of William Faulkner, “seen the first and the last”. He has worked with artists like Chris Marker, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras, Jorge Semprun, John Gielgud, Stephen Sondheim, Adolph Comden, Alyn Ayckbourn, Jean Cayrol, Hans Werner Henze, Jacques Sternberg, Henri Laborit. He also edited La Pointe courte, Agnés Varda’s first film. That gallery comprises the middle-of-the-20th Century, a meeting point of classicism, modernism and post-modernism which Resnais keeps blurring all the time, right to his later films.

Alain Resnais can best be understood as a “fellow traveler” to the French New Wave. He was a cinephile, he loved Hitchcock, Louis Feuillade and Jean Renoir yes, but unlike them, he was also far more generous to the pre-war French film-makers like Sacha Guitry, Jean Grémillon and Marcel L’Herbier. He also began making films a full decade before them. Here’s a fun fact, the only film by Alain Resnais to win an Oscar is the 1948 Van Gogh which won Best 2-Reel Documentary at the 1949 Academy Awards.

Before making his first feature, the landmark Hiroshima Mon Amour, Resnais already secured immortality by directing four of the greatest short films ever made in any language. Les Statues Meurent Aussi brought together Resnais, Chris Marker and cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet, one of the most piercing films ever made about colonialism, one of the few Western films admired by Senegalese master Ousmane Sembène. Other masterpieces include the mesmerizing and wondrous, Toute le mémoire du monde (1956) on the National Library of France, and his happiest short La Chant du Styrène (1958), a film about the manufacture of polystyrene plastics, shot in delirious color with narration in rhyming couplets supplied by the legendary Raymond Queneau. His most famous short is Night and Fog (1955), a film about the Holocaust that gazes at the horror without flinching or yielding to sentimentalism and despair.

Resnais noted in an interview with Noel Burch that there were no fundamental differences between making shorts and features aside from the fact that short films were harder, required greater preparation and had more restrictions than the features. The films for which Resnais are best known for, and still his most influential work is Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961) which is closer to the style of his short films than any feature afterwards. Their constructions are more rigid and tightly knit than the films that followed.

Muriel ou le Temps d’un retour (1963) is perhaps a more important film from the standpoint of the development of Resnais’ career than Marienbad or Hiroshima Mon Amour. It is of course deeply political but the style is more eclectic. The theme of identity, the sense of the environment and the media structuring human consciousness, blurring our memories with our fantasies is achieved even more strongly in this film. This idea is developed in his later films, especially the epochal Stavisky…(1974) which recreates the period glamour and filigree of 30s only to locate death amidst the sunshine. With Stavisky being a tragic fraud who heralds the end of what Charles Boyer’s Baron describes with incredible emotion as “Biarritz-Bonheur”, a sign of a shop that he had only glimpsed once in passing but which to him describes the serenity, real or imagined, of the past.

Ultimately, Resnais’ films represent the most inspiring and optimistic bodies of work in film history because with each new major work, whether it’s Stavisky… or Providence (1977- A rare English-Language film with Dirk Bogarde and John Gielgud) to the impossibility that is Mon oncle d’Amérique (1980), he was constantly changing, discovering and shifting his style and approach, never resting in anything safe and conventional. The third phase of his career begins with Mélo (1986) and continued right until his recent triumphs of Pas sur la bouche (2003), Coeurs (2006), Vous n’avez encore rien vu (2012) and the film that has now become his final film, Aimer, boire et chanter (Life of Riley).

Like Antonioni and Bergman, Alain Resnais reinvented the cinema. Their passing along with Eric Rohmer, Danièle Huillet, Chris Marker, Claude Chabrol, Miklos Jansco and many others represents an apotheosis of cinema as the art of the 20th Century.