“Alain, why don’t you make films like other people?” the mother of Alain Resnais (1922-2014) once asked. “Because other people already make them,” the French formalist answered.
He experimented tirelessly with the intention of fascinating and surprising his audiences. The restored 4K version of the classic with which he won the Golden Lion in 1961, L’année dernière à Marienbad, was presented at the last Venice Film Festival. It is an awful film to try and summarize, but it is an absolute joy to watch.
The only thing you should not do is to approach the film as an intellectual jigsaw puzzle that you have to solve. In a castle hotel in Bavaria, a strange man convinces a beautiful woman (Delphine Seyrig) that she has a memory. A year earlier, she purportedly had an affair with him. What happened or is happening? Does the film depict someone’s dream or failing memory?
The virtuoso intertwining of levels of reality offers the viewer very little to go on. No timeline presents itself as the correct one, statues change place, and the decoration of rooms changes. Flashbacks turn out not to be flashbacks. Everything is ambiguous, alienating, and…immeasurably intriguing.