Last Year at Marienbad ★★

FILM SCHOOL DROPOUT: A 2017 year-long movie challenge
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Week 13: French New Wave

I've mentioned this already this week, but it bears repeating that one of the lasting legacies of the French New Wave was not just talky social-realism dramas with a heightened sense of reality and stripped-down production values, but also the establishment of the stereotype of "European cinema" being weirdo artsy freak shows, made purposely obtuse merely for the act of being obtuse, and pretentiously inscrutable as a sort of academic boast about how fans of that movie must be smarter than you, since they get it and you don't. And the reason that's important to bring up again today is because Alain Resnais's 1961 Last Year at Marienbad is essentially the first movie to single-handedly establish that reputation, a film that even the director happily admitted is incomprehensible if you try to watch it as a normal narrative story, and that can only be enjoyed as a sort of surrealistic document of a dream come to life. As such, then, I don't really have much to say about the movie, both because such movies purposely eschew such attempts at analysis and because I don't like such movies very much; and even Resnais confessed in those years that he didn't really consider himself part of the French New Wave at all, but rather an old-school Modernist stream-of-consciousness artist who just happened to get famous at the same time the New Wave filmmakers also got famous, getting him lumped into the category by association. Certainly an influential film -- it's what led to Fellini making his own weirdo art-school messes in the late '60s, was one of the main influences over David Lynch's work, and is the basis for every headscratching TV commercial for French perfume that's ever been made since -- that's a different thing from saying that it's a good film, an admirable experiment from an era of experimentation but one that can be easily skipped by everyone but the most hardcore of film school students. If you're looking to sample just a couple of French New Wave films to get a better understanding of the movement in general, this is one of the first ones to remove from your list of possibilities; although it's worth noting that this was an aberration in Resnais's career, and that other films of his like Night and Fog and Hiroshima mon amour are considered much more essential watches from this period of history.

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