French New Wave filmmaker Alain Resnais, who died at the age of 91 last week, changed cinema forever with a string of intellectually rigorous, nonlinear masterpieces like Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961). Both films are about Resnais’s two obsessions – time and memory. Hiroshima is about a doomed relationship between a French actress and a Japanese architect who are both haunted by the war. Marienbad is an enigmatic puzzle of a movie that sharply divided audiences – either you were mesmerized by the movie or you were bored and infuriated by it. For better or worse, Marienbad influenced generations of fashion photographers; Calvin Klein’s Obsession ads were directly influenced by the film.
Resnais got his start just after the war making short documentaries. His best known is Night and Fog (1955), a meditation on both the Holocaust and the memory of the Holocaust. And above you can see another one of his documentaries – his 1956 short Toute la mémoire du monde (All the World’s Memories). It was put online by Criterion.
While the movie beautifully shows off the labyrinthine expanse of the Bibliothèque nationale de France – its vast collection of books, manuscripts and documents along with herculean efforts to compile and organize all of its information – the film becomes a rumination on the lengths that humanity will go to keep from forgetting. The film features some gorgeous cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet and a soundtrack by Maurice Jarre. Check it out.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.