15 JANUARY 1960, Page 19

Speak, Memory

By ISABEL QUIGLY Hiroshima Mon Amour. (Inter- national Film Theatre, West- bourne Grove.) DECOMPOSITION and petrifica- tion : photographed in black and white they look much the same and there must be a moral


in that somewhere. To me the a ready famous opening shots of Hiroshima Mon Inl°111* (director : Alain Resnais; 'X' certificate), In which the lovers' bodies suddenly start to gleam arld glisten (`covered with sweat, ashes and dew,' according to the script of Marguerite Duras), suggest the disintegrating, denaturalised flesh, now horribly familiar from photographs, of People exposed to atomic radiation. They have also been compared to those human couples found ,at Pompeii. And so they do : both. They seem "d, as loathsomely in movement, as 'alive' as decomposing corpses, and at the same dine the 114ve the fossilised, open-pored look of the very llcient dead. This is just one more double image a film conceived in contrast and paradox, one hcomment on the adaptability of time and e agelessness of experience. Yes, everyone has called the film Proustian, but then so it is : in its 13reoccupation with time, memory, loss, forget- 1.tuilless, above all in its use of time as something 1°. be surmounted imaginatively, something to be .ived beyond, as it were, so that you have the impression of lovers, in the present, looking back at it already out of the future—a terribly adult lr,41 alarming thing, for l overs especially, to do. ° know you will forget is the antithesis of the i,sserialuty and centralness of love; to know the all- Important present will soon become confused with iriller times that were once as important, and so revocably lost that even the physical image of the lover will fade, is the end of happiness before it has even the chance to exist. Sad, true, un- bearable, inadmissible; above all, sad. Sad, true, unbearable, inadmissible, all these words change at dijerent levels of meaning, of course; and Hiroshima Mon Amour has so many vels that it must take several visits to move 4141IY from one to another. At one level, the most ex,lidan, I noticed that it is a film requiri at ng nfiraordienary amount of concentrion : an il you eeze or eat toffees at your peril, because, while toallibling for a handkerchief or disposing of the no ee paper you may miss a vital second which iniPreeeding clue will have warned you to watch \Yhen the French woman sees her lover's hand vIng as he sleeps, suddenly, with no warning and no mention of such a person so far, the figure of a bloodstained German soldier flashes on the screen for a moment. All too easy to miss, if you have the fidgets. And all the way through it is the same, a tense degree of concentration is required. The script by Marguerite Duras, and the acting of the main character, Emanuelle Riva, I found at times rather flowery, theatrical, curiously over- blown and uncongenial (I believe the director, Resnais, wanted it so : a 'grand opera' manner), and the heroine was tiresome enough to make me groan (once at least, and almost oftener) when she came round yet another street corner, still distraught. But even Resnais says he didn't par- ticularly like her, so why should I?

It is a film based on contrast—between East and West, war and peace, past and future; directed with extreme precision, yet using the most hap- hazard of plots and dipping into the past as into a ragbag of experience and feeling. It moves from Japan to France and from the present to the war not in what we usually call flashback—the smooth progression from present to past CI remember,' says the mink heroine, clutching an orchid that melts into a dandelion as she turns up, pigtailed and pinafored, on a haystack)—but in abrupt moments, like glimpses through a trap-door slammed down, the way, in remembering a painful past, you always slam down on particular moments—the worst. Gradually, through a day and two nights with her Japanese lover in Hiro- shima, the woman brings out her past, buried and never before confessed : how her first lover was a German soldier and he was shot and died in her arms, and she stayed by his dying and then dead body for a day and a night out of doors, then had her head cropped and went mad and was kept in a cellar till the hair grew and the madness receded; and was then put on a bicycle and sent to Paris and anonymity by her parents : all this in snippets, soundlessly (except for a single shriek), with Japanese noises accompanying the memories of Nevers, where it all happened. The girl, shocked into madness at the unexpectedness of suffering, has the face of the woman who recalls her; but the woman can never be shocked because she expects it all—suffering, and the safety-valve knowledge of forgetfulness. She knows and her lover knows they will forget (first eyes, then voice, she says); she knows they will suffer at parting and almost certainly never meet again. Her cry of grief for a lost youth seemed, at the time 1 heard it, almost demented and, in the context, wildly theatrical, a sudden intrusion of, say, Phedre : but looking back on it it seems perhaps reasonable enough : a longing for the state of innocence that regards love as, if not eternal, at least eternally important.

Love, death, time, space, memory, oblivion : round and round they go, the questions, the answers, not discussed but 'treated,' as they should be in the cinema. If so many films were not hybrids —half plays or half novels, half polemical or half literary-1 needn't say what it seems almost absurd to say, that Hiroshima Mon Amour is cinematic first, last and always. It thinks, feels, talks, breathes, and lives cinematically. For this reason it would be a pity for it to be labelled too firmly 'highbrow' and left to the specialists. It is a film for film enthusiasts, first and foremost : levels, as in the film itself, settle themselves later.