The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, August 31-September 6

Alain Resnais’ LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1961). Courtesy Film Forum. Playing Tuesday, September 6 with HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR. Hiroshima, mon amour (1959)
Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
Directed by Alain Resnais

With his first two feature films, Resnais cerebrally altered cinema, addling it with an enigmatic, haunting, dogged vision. Last Year at Marienbad, in particular, become an art-cultural touchstone, inspiring a hard-to-believe vogue for nim, an ancient game of strategy and matchsticks which is featured in the film, as well as apparently many insufferable cocktail conversations: according to columnist Inez Robb, “The surest way to get a party off the pad and into orbit this season is to ask, ‘And how did you like Last Year at Marienbad?’”

Polarizing from the start (Marienbad was introduced as such in one contemporary program: ”The film you are about to see will, in all probability, upset every normal viewing habit you have formed”), the two films weave what are arguably simple plots with non-linear, opaque storytelling devices (flashbacks and flashforwards, other uncertain shifts in time), spare characterizations, moments of vivid visual beauty, and an obsession in the peculiar workings of and necessity for memory and forgetting.

Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada in Alain Resnais’ HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959). Courtesy Film Forum. Playing Tuesday, September 6 with LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD.

Hiroshima mon amour observes a passionate tryst and the unraveling, forwards and backwards moving, looping dialogue and history of two unnamed lovers, a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada). Marienbad follows three unnamed characters (A, X, and M); X attempts to convince A that they met a year before in Marienbad and arranged for a maybe-amorous meeting a year from then, which is now now. Or possibly not. Resolutely uncertain, Resnais’s films investigate reality and phantasm, memory and time, stories and the mechanics of stories.

Film Forum is screening the two as a double feature, which sounds as obvious as it is revelatory. It bridges the space between canonical status and the astonishing start of a career, offering a window into a moment when cinema was quickly, definitively changed. Jeremy Polacek (September 6 at Film Forum’s “Return of the Double Feature,” with two-for-one admission throughout the day’s showtimes)

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