Last Year at Marienbad

Last Year at Marienbad ★★★★

Dusty velvet ... faded glamour ... a lost golden age ... Brideshead ... Le Grand Meaulnes ... the melancholy romance of a remembered or imagined love ... characters telling different versions of the same events... tableaux like comic panels of a silent film ... bursts of horror organ music ...

In visuals and subject, the film is suffused with tones I adore, but L'Année dernière à Marienbad left me a little cold and detached.

At first glance it's impressionistic and dreamlike. Increasingly the concrete nature of the words spoilt that - and hinted towards more sinister analyses. X, the male narrator, tells his story of his affair last year with a woman A, who denies it happened; he speaks almost always of actions, stances and places. There is remarkably little in the way of compliments or emotions expressed in his words.

A talk in the DVD extras (by Ginette Vincendeau) mentions a number of different interpretations, including one in which A is traumatised, perhaps because she was assaulted by X; I usually like to take the sunniest interpretation and enjoy a film as much as I can, but as well as the fear in A's face in certain locations as cited, I had already been struck by X's lack of tenderness in his speech and his insistence on his own account in the face of her denial.

As Of Montreal said, "We want our film to be beautiful, not realistic" - but sometimes very unbeautiful things may happen between people in exquisite surroundings, and that possibility means one cannot get blissfully lost in the gorgeous baroque environment of Marienbad.