‘Last Year At Marienbad’ – A Beautiful Mess

It seemed fitting after my previous incoherent, rambling post to talk about Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year At Marienbad’ (original title ‘L’année dernière à Marienbad’). After I had finished watching this film I was irritated, even after doing research online and after my second viewing I was irritated, this film does not make sense, it does not add up! After time, however, I grew to accept this film for what I believe it to be, and it has become one of my favorites. Before talking any further I will say go and watch this film, not because of spoilers or anything like that, because watching this film fresh with an open mind will only drag you into its web of confusion just as it should. So go watch it.

So, the plot… The film is about Man ‘X’ and Woman ‘A’ and whether or not they had met last year at Marienbad (the name of the castle/chateau in which the film is set). Also present is Man ‘M’ who may or may not be the Woman’s husband/partner, ‘M’ spends his time asserting his dominance over ‘X’. That is the ‘storyline’. There is no other important characters, no important sub-plots. Anything else is down to interpretation and subjective analysis. The plot unfolds through a series of incoherent flashbacks primarily through the perspective of ‘M’ who seems entirely conflicted about what really happened last year at Marienbad, even more so than ‘X’ who claims the two have never even met. The relationship between these characters are explored through these flashbacks. However, the incoherent nature of these flashbacks forces the audience to question if any of this can be called reliable.

The film is a mess, an incoherent, impossible to assemble mess, and its great! When a group discuss this film and what they believe to be the accurate version of events nobody can agree on much at all. This is because the film is made to confuse (not in ‘please buy another cinema ticket’ way), its a jumbled and twisted masterpiece with, in my opinion, no solution. In the film one of the repeated scenes involve ‘M’ playing a mathematical matchstick game (I’ve been told is called ‘Nim’). No matter what method ‘X’ attempts he simply cannot beat ‘M’ at this game, one scene in particular has a crowd around the two men playing the game, a number of them shout out advice to ‘X’ regarding how he should go about beating ‘M’, but still, he is unsuccessful. To me, this scene is an allegory for the way an audience will approach the film. One can try to find the solution to this film again and again, they can assess and analyse scene by scene, but they will never find the solution, they will never ‘win’. Some people claim that the key to winning Nim is by understanding the one method of success, which leads them to believe there is one way of understanding and solving this film which they can find if they try hard enough. This interpretation seems like a vast stretch to me.

The cinematography and sound design of the film only serve to increase the feeling of confusion for the audience. There are long panning shots of Marienbad and chilling still shots of the garden both of which draw the viewer into a state of wonderful drowsiness. Conversations and locations are repeated and mixed to such an extent that the viewer cannot accurately recollect what happened where. The long, drawn out organ solo’s have a hypnotic, unnerving, almost creepy quality which serve to hypnotize the viewer whilst also keeping them constantly on edge. some of the most brilliant sound design comes from the use of silence, there are massively uncomfortable lengths of silence, often accompanied with equally lengthy still shots. These serve to remove the viewer from the setting and instill an incredible feeling of uneasiness.

Some critics think this film is overly pretentious and the epitome of a failed experiment in artsy cinematography, they say its incomprehensible and therefore pointless. I disagree entirely, this film is pretentious and incomprehensible, but that’s the point. This film tells the audience that there isn’t always a solution, you cannot always bash your head against a problem until its fixed. Sometimes, things are a mess and that’s the way they have to be. Last Year At Marienbad attempts to tell the audience that sometimes its alright for there to be no solution, each individual viewer simply has to come to this conclusion or this film will infuriate them as it originally did to me.

I could talk about this film for ages, and likely will again, for now I will stop! P.S. Even the image at the top is confusing, the trees have no shadow!

TLDR – This film is a wonderful, incomprehensible mess. I really like it.


‘Persona’ (1966) -I watched this

Honestly, I was struggling to know what to write about tonight, however I felt like writing something! I’m struggling to formulate my ideas but I’m going to attempt to explain this film and my thoughts on it. I recently watched Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Persona’, this is a film that part of me wants to view a second time, although, for a number of reasons, I’m almost sure I wont (at least for a while). I think this is because although I find the film interesting, I’m not entirely sure I enjoyed watching it. Therefore I would likely struggle to pay any attention to it with a second viewing.

‘Persona’ focuses on two female leads, an actress (Elisabet) who has been cleared of mental or physical damage, yet is inexplicably unable to speak. And a nurse (Alma) who has been assigned to care for her and stay with her in a solitary summer home. Alma grows quite fond of Elisabet as the film progresses and she reveals a series of stories from her past – including a sexual encounter with two young teenagers, her subsequent abortion, her opinions of art, and moreover, her general perspective on how she has lived her life. Alma seems utterly conflicted on these topics and swings between states of laughter, sadness and joy. The relationship between these two characters is strained however, as Alma reads a letter Elisabet writes to her doctor which paints Alma as a case study – someone Elisabet can observe and examine. Alma is understandably unhappy, the logical next step for her is of course to leave broken glass for Elisabet to step on and threaten her with boiling water.

Things get rather strange from this point, and certainly more interesting. aspects of the two characters begin to merge and intermingle (their persona’s one might say) In a chilling monologue about Elizabet’s child we are told of how Elisabet gave birth to a child but could not love the boy, and instead rejected it. This monologue is painfully repeated word-for-word with the focus on Alma’s face. And by the end both characters faces are chillingly superimposed together. Alma leaves the summer house, and the camera pans to show the directer and crew filming the scene. The film ends.

So, what do I think this film is about, and what even happened in the film? Some believe the two women represent the external and internal aspects of Elisabet’s character, and the film is about introspection and understanding ones guilt – with Alma’s departure representing a change in Elisabet’s internal persona. I struggle with this representation, The film doesn’t need to be this obscure to be interesting. I think this is the story of two personalities, with one being so much stronger than another it begins to take over and dominate, to the point where one struggles to exist in conjunction with the other. Alma loves Elisabet, she is so conflicted about her past and her way of living that she succumbs to the strong independent personality of Elisabet.

Some of the themes raised in this film are certainly interesting: guilt, motherhood, personality, self-reflection, the role of an actor, the role of an audience. It would require a far lengthier text to discuss any or all of these. I’m not entirely decided upon what Bergman is trying to say with this film. I did enjoy how this ‘artsy’ and pretentious film managed successfully to seem entirely unpretentious, a great accomplishment of Bergman and the entire team. The performances of the two leads are brilliant, with the famous ‘beach monologue’ burned into my memory. Liv Ullmann with almost no speech in the film manages to portray emotions brilliantly in response to Alma’ continual monologues. To summarize, although this film is brilliantly made and excellently performed, and although the themes interest me, I did not find myself enjoying this film and I’m not entirely sure why.

TLDR – This post was almost pointless, I don’t know how I feel about this film. Watch it? I guess?

Taxi Driver -It sure is a film.

Taxi Driver is a film I watched a number of years ago and quite quickly forgot about. I ‘enjoyed’ watching it (If it something that should be enjoyed), however, was left with little I would take away with me. A week or so ago whilst struggling with a minor dab of insomnia it seemed fitting to re-watch Scorsese’s much loved film to see if my experiences with the ‘vigilante-thriller’ had changed.

To summarize Taxi driver as quickly and unfairly as possible – The story follows our heroic protagonist Travis (Robert De Niro) an honorably discharged marine, who also happens to be a lonely, depressed, porn-obsessed insomniac. We follow Travis as he gets obsessed with one lovely female and then an underage prostitute, he then attempts to assassinate a  nice man, and then kills a load of pimps. Other notable events include: Travis driving a taxi, Travis giving himself a sweet haircut and Travis taking a female to a Swedish porn film on their second date. More importantly, this film is about Travis’ decline into insanity, how he manages with normal life after the Vietnam war, his struggles with loneliness and guilt and finally his ‘redemption’ (if you can all it that)

The film is undoubtedly an impressive piece of work. De Niro’s portrayal of Travis is incredibly powerful and believable, Scorsese shoots the New York streets perfectly to portray Travis’ hatred of the ‘filth-filled city’ and the sound design lures viewers into Travis’ confused, sleep deprived state. After watching Taxi Driver it’s difficult to decide how you feel about the protagonist, the people of the city or the place they inhabit. I believe I accepted these propositions after my first viewing, so I now question why after my more recent viewing I cant stop thinking about this film. I find myself thinking about the post-war world, the soldiers who return from war, the nature of people from different ‘walks of life’ (I dislike this phrase quite strongly). Mostly, I think about Travis, as warped and dangerous his views are I find myself relating to him, not his actual decisions but the state he is in which drives him to these, the confusion he is clearly dealing with, maybe his inability to understand where his life is heading.

I have only been able to come to the rather blatant and useless conclusion that sometimes an individual needs to be in a certain state of mind, or time in their life to appreciate certain films. Perhaps this is stretching my experience of this film, maybe after a day or so without sleep the dark, moody city and the draining, deep soundtrack lured me into a vulnerable, overly impressionable place. These are both possibilities, or perhaps I just like films more in a sleep deprived state. Either way, I cant stop thinking about this film or about Travis and I’m happy I can appreciate this film the way most do. If you haven’t seen it, want to be conflicted and have a few hours, Id watch it

TLDR – Taxi Driver is a film, I like it, Id see it if you haven’t