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HTF DVD REVIEW: Last Year at Marienbad



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#1 of 2 Matt Hough

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Posted June 17 2009 - 02:43 PM


Last Year at Marienbad
Directed by Alain Resnais

Studio: Criterion
Year: 1961
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1anamorphic
Running Time: 94 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French
Subtitles: English
MSRP: $ 39.99

Release Date: June 23, 2009
Review Date: June 17, 2009


The Film

3.5/5

One gets the feeling that director Alain Resnais had a joyous time making his legendary puzzler Last Year at Marienbad. The film is so full of creative filmmaking techniques that its inventive spark is palpable even today while watching it almost five decades after its production. It’s notoriously enigmatic and resists easy analysis, but there are few films like it, and its very eccentricity gives it certain virtues missing from more easily assimilated movies.

In a gorgeously appointed baroque hotel, an attractive man (Giorgio Albertazzi) approaches a cooly reflective woman (Delphine Seyrig) and insists that they have not only met a year ago but that they had a romance and she promised after a year to go away with him. Expecting her to come with him instantly, the woman surprises him by denying ever having met him and insisting that her companion (Sacha Pitoëff) would not react favorably to the strange man’s unwanted attentions toward her.

What does it all mean, this haunting foray into memory, possession, and persuasion? Who knows? Are they all dead, and this is hell? Is the man insane and carrying through with a plan with a total stranger whom he only thinks he knows? Is the woman an amnesiac caused by the man having raped her a year ago and thus has blocked the horrifying incident from her consciousness? Is the woman merely playing hard to get or perhaps using the stranger to make her companion jealous? All of these are possible interpretations of the basic skeleton of a story supplied by screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet. And in the end, the solutions of the story’s conundrums aren’t of much interest to the director (one gets the feeling he‘s having much too much fun filming sequences in mirrors or playing with the time and space continuum with the story to worry about linear storytelling), and it wasn’t of much interest to this reviewer either knowing in advance that the story’s puzzles were insoluble. A much better approach to this amazing compilation of stylized performance, exquisite production design, and directorial flourish is simply to sit back and drink it all in in large, voluminous gulps. Resnais keeps his camera always on the go in a series of mind-numbing slow tracking shots through the hotel’s long, expansive corridors and immense rooms, never losing sight of not only his major film focuses but also with an eye on the intricate decors and the mannequin-like extras that populate the frames. And that mind-bending table game of wits that Pitoëff wages against Albertazzi using cards, matches, dominoes, or photographs keeps the viewer equally off balance, the confounding tone of the piece reflected in the games being played both on card tables and in the lives these characters are living.

Resnais has obviously directed the actors to remain remote and cool, detached from emotions that ordinary mortals would find bubbling unhealthily to the surface under similar circumstances. The three leads, none of whom have character names but are placed in cast lists as X (Albertazzi), A (Seyrig), and M (Pitoëff), all accomplish what their director has obviously wanted: they’re mostly blank slates on which the audience can write anything they wish to have the story mean depending on what each individual viewer wishes to have happen.



Video Quality

4/5

The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented with anamorphic enhancement for widescreen televisions. The grayscale is mostly beautifully rendered in this new transfer with superb black levels and whites that only bloom when the director wants them to (though the blooming effect at one point reveals some intrusive banding) There’s also a bothersome hair that pops up through one scene right in the bottom middle of the frame. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 21 chapters.

Audio Quality

3/5

The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track has some minor instances of rather light hiss, flutter, and crackle especially toward the latter half of the film. From the sound of the trailers, the audio tracks have been cleaned up considerably, but a few problems still remain. And, of course, there is some light treble distortion with the limited fidelity of this almost fifty-year old movie.


Special Features

3.5/5

Two theatrical trailers are combined into a trailer compilation section which runs 5 ¾ minutes in anamorphic widescreen.

Disc Two contains the majority of the set’s bonus features.

An audio interview with director Alain Resnais is quite informative as the legendary filmmaker discusses making the movie and his interpretation of its meaning (the interview is subtitled). This runs 33 minutes and features a selection of stills that run behind the audio track as it plays.

“Unraveling the Enigma: The Making of Last Year in Marienbadis a 32 ½-minute featurette with many of the collaborators from the movie (production designer, cinematographer) describing various elements of the film’s production and reception. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.

Film scholar Ginette Vincendeau offers a video critique of the movie citing its innovations, its place in the pantheon of French New Wave films, and its various interpretations in this 22 ½-minute feature in anamorphic widescreen.

Two of Alain Resnais’ short documentaries are included on the disc. Toute la mémoire du monde about the National Library runs 21 minutes and is in 4:3 while Le chant du styrene deals with styrene polymers which turns into a riot of shapes and colors and runs 13 ¾ minutes. It’s in 2.35:1.

The enclosed 46-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, a terrific set of stills from the movie, a celebration of the film by author Mark Polizzotti, screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet’s marvelous introduction to his published screenplay, and film author Francois Thomas’ defense of Grillet’s views on the film and its director.


In Conclusion

3.5/5 (not an average)

Winner of the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Film Festival, Last Year at Marienbad has both its defenders and its detractors as do many great works of art. Serious students of the cinema would do well to visit or revisit the film. Its intricate construction and resultant complexities always reward the open-minded and imaginative viewer.


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 2 Martin Teller

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Posted June 17 2009 - 04:19 PM

One of my all-time favorites, can't wait to get my hands (and eyes) on the Blu-Ray.





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