``

Film Series / Events

Search All Film Series (1999-present)
Browse All Film Series

January 15 - January 25

Alain Resnais and the Enigmatic Art of Memory

A legendary – and still incredibly active – figure in French cinema, Alain Resnais (b.1922) has created some of the most important and indelible films of the postwar era. In a career spanning over sixty years, Resnais has exhaustively explored the complex relationships between time and memory, truth and the subjectivity of the human mind. Intellectually rigorous, his films nonetheless remain immensely watchable, buoyed by a lightness of touch and a sheer beauty that effortlessly communicates the dreamlike interior of the mind.

A contemporary of the French New Wave, Resnais’ relationship to that movement was always tangential, with his politically engaged, structurally formalist films standing apart from the looser, more personal early work of Truffaut, et al. Resnais began his film career directing documentaries before transitioning to narrative features with the groundbreaking and controversial Hiroshima mon amour (which sadly remains unavailable for this retrospective due to a long-simmering rights dispute). A long, fecund stage of his career is marked by his collaborations with such avant-garde novelists as Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Jorge Semprun and resulted in Resnais’ most celebrated films, including Last Year at Marienbad, Muriel, or the Time of Return, The War is Over and Je t’aime, je t’aime. In recent years, Resnais has embraced his lifelong dream of directing musicals – with the lush, late work Same Old Song openly inspired, for example, by the still neglected work of British writer-director Dennis Potter.

This series is presented in conjunction with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York and the Consulate of France in Boston. Special thanks: Sandrine Butteau, Delphine Selles, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, New York; Anne Miller, Eric Jausseran, Consulate General of France, Boston.

Read the Boston Globe's review of the series here.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday January 15 at 7pm

Last Year at Marienbad (L’Année dernière à Marienbad)

Directed by Alain Resnais.
With Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoeff
France 1961, 35mm, b/w, 93 min. French with English subtitles
Print from Rialto Pictures

Resnais’ groundbreaking collaboration with Alain Robbe-Grillet is a hypnotic and haunting exploration of the subjectivity and mutability of memory, itself a dominant theme in Resnais’ work. The film’s dreamlike structure circles back on itself repeatedly, with the repetition of words and images evoking the intimacy and unreliability of memory as a man, known only as X, pursues a woman, A, through an upscale resort, insisting that they had an affair the year before and arranged to meet again, while she claims no memory of him. Resisting any easy interpretations, Resnais encourages uncertainty, dissolving the distinction between reality and fantasy, memory and fiction, while A and X, frozen in an endless loop, explore the infinite variations of their enigmatic interactions.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday January 15 at 9pm

The War is Over (La guerre est finie)

Directed by Alain Resnais.
With Yves Montand, Geneviève Bujold, Ingrid Thulin
France 1966, 35mm, b/w, 121 min. French with English subtitles
Print from the Harvard Film Archive Collection

Yves Montand plays Diego, an aging Spanish revolutionary based in Paris who begins to question his beliefs, his group’s tactics and their effectiveness in Resnais’ landmark film. Using flashforwards, fantasies and imaginings to illustrate the constant unease of Diego’s mind, Resnais persuasively crafts the tale of one man’s commitment to a cause and the effect years of duplicity and mistrust have had on his psyche and his relationships. Montand’s world-weary charm lends a touching poignancy to his portrayal of Diego as an eternal outsider, a man without a country – or a fixed identity.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Saturday January 16 at 7pm

Je t'aime, je t'aime

Directed by Alain Resnais.
With Claude Rich, Olga Georges-Picot, Anouk Ferjac
France 1968, 35mm, color, 91 min. French with English subtitles
Print from Les Grands Films Classiques

In Resnais’ only science fiction film, a suicidal man is recruited by a team of scientists to test their time machine, which has previously only been tried on mice. A malfunction in the machine traps him in his past, where he is forced to relive fragmentary pieces of his memories in no discernible order. From the disorienting imagery, a narrative revolving around a girlfriend whose death he may or may not have caused gradually emerges. A poetic exploration of the role of destiny, memory and time, Je t’aime explores the instinct of one man to cling to his past even as he watches it dissolve.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Saturday January 16 at 9pm

Same Old Song (On connaît la chanson)

Directed by Alain Resnais.
With Agnès Jaoui, Sabine Azéma, Jean-Pierre Bacri
France 1997, 35mm, color, 122 min. French with English subtitles
Print from MAE

Resnais’ fondness for musical theater (he is an avowed Stephen Sondheim fan) informs this ensemble piece about a group of lovelorn Parisians. Borrowing a strategy from Dennis Potter, writer of the screenplays for the original versions of Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective, the film pauses occasionally to allow its characters to voice their unspoken thoughts, fears and desires by channeling French popular songs from the 1930s onward. The device reveals a contrast between the external and the internal that is alternately amusing and poignant and, like so much of the director’s recent work, represents an intersection between theater and cinema that is itself a correlative to his earlier examinations of the gaps between memory and experience.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Sunday January 17 at 7pm

My American Uncle (Mon oncle d’Amérique)

Directed by Alain Resnais.
With Gérard Depardieu, Nicole Garcia, Roger Pierre
France 1980, 35mm, color, 125 min. French with English subtitles
Print from MAE

Tracing three disparate characters as they navigate their personal and professional lives, My American Uncle defies traditional narrative structure by introducing a fourth figure, a behavioral scientist whose theories on human nature act as commentaries on the actions of the protagonists. The result is a fusion of fiction and documentary techniques, complicated by the film’s complex structure, with its three separate storylines, shifts back and forth in time and extensive voiceover narrative. Nowhere is the film more complex, however, than in its relationship to its three protagonists, who at first appear to be presented as case studies, a relationship Resnais ingeniously subverts by contrasting their emotional pain and fear with the coldly analytical voiceover of their “motivations” as explained by the scientist.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Monday January 18 at 7pm
Monday January 25 at 7pm

Providence

Directed by Alain Resnais.
With John Gielgud, Dirk Bogarde, Ellen Burstyn
France 1977, 35mm, color, 110 min.
Print from the Harvard Film Archive Collection

Resnais’ first film in English, this portrait of a writer’s last days, both autumnal and nightmarish, finds him surrounded by his family but also retreating into his imagination, with his final work reflecting his ambivalence towards his children and the women in his life. As in so much of Resnais’ work, the borders between history, memory and fantasy in Providence prove to be more permeable than solid, which Resnais brilliantly represents by giving the film’s locations a geographic fluidity – the spaces onscreen seem to oscillate between the real and the imaginary. The primary setting is an English country house that seems as haunted as the resort in Last Year at Marienbad.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday January 22 at 7pm

Stavisky

Directed by Alain Resnais.
With Jean-Paul Belmondo, François Périer, Anny Duperey
France 1974, 35mm, color, 115 min. French and English with English subtitles
Print from MAE

While Stavisky documents the downfall of a con artist whose financial crimes brought France to the brink of fiscal and political ruin in the 1930s, the film also concerns itself with the ways in which nostalgia distorts an unknowable past. As envisioned by Resnais, Stavisky – played with charming magnetism by Jean-Paul Belmondo – is an actor, a professional performer whose decadent, unsustainable lifestyle mirrors the fatal joie de vivre of Europe between the wars. With a wonderful turn by Charles Boyer as an aristocrat dazzled by Stavisky’s glamour, a score by Stephen Sondheim and opulent Art Deco sets, Stavisky is one of Resnais’ most beautiful films, a meditation on history and our complex, mysterious relationship with the past.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday January 22 at 9:15pm

Private Fears in Public Places (Coeurs)

Directed by Alain Resnais.
With Sabine Azéma, Isabelle Carré, Pierre Arditi
France 2006, 35mm, color, 120 min. French with English subtitles
Print from MAE

Private Fears in Public Places is Resnais’ second adaptation of a play by British author Alan Ayckbourn, who is known for his ability to infuse farce with melancholy, a combination here transported to the members of a Parisian bourgeois intellectual milieu similar to that of Same Old Song. Resnais continues his explorations in combining cinema and theater by confining the action to a series of sets and connecting the many short scenes with shots of enigmatically beautiful snow falling. The film visually exploits its own theatricality with overhead shots and the use of walls and partitions that both diagram the characters’ movements and foreground their isolation in this bittersweet comedy about lost love and missed opportunities.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Saturday January 23 at 7pm

Muriel, or the Time of Return (Muriel ou le temps d’un retour)

Directed by Alain Resnais.
With Delphine Seyrig, Jean-Pierre Kérien, Jean-Baptiste Thierrée
France 1963, 35mm, color, 116 min. French with English subtitles
Print from MAE

Muriel marks a return for Resnais to themes from earlier films – the unreliability of memory and, as in Hiroshima mon amour, the juxtaposition of the horrors of war, in this case torture, with a romantic relationship. As the title suggests, Muriel is deeply concerned with the past, focusing on characters who threaten to be consumed by their histories, which have indelibly shaped their lives and left them incapable of functioning in the present. Bernard, recently returned from the Algerian war, is haunted by his experiences there, while his stepmother returns to an old lover, less to reunite with him than to obsessively examine their past love. One of Resnais’ most politically engaged films, Muriel explores the devastating aftermath of war and the lasting trauma it inflicts.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Saturday January 23 at 9:15pm

Mélo

Directed by Alain Resnais.
With Sabine Azéma, Pierre Arditi, André Dussollier
France 1986, 35mm, color, 112 min. French with English subtitles
Print from MAE

Resnais’ most intimate film, Mélo, based on Henry Bernstein’s 1929 play, centers around a tragic love triangle between a pair of musicians and the wife of the less successful of the two. The film playfully references its theatrical roots, framing each act with a proscenium arch and calling attention to the artifice of the sets while maintaining its emotional integrity through the deeply felt passions of the characters. As with Stavisky, Resnais mourns the loss of an earlier mode of filmmaking through affectionate homage to 1930s film styles while revealing the era to be one of illusory jollity and dangerous self-deception. 

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Sunday January 24 at 7pm

All the Memory of the World (Toute la mémoire du monde)

Directed by Alain Resnais.
France 1956, 16mm, b/w, 22 min.
Print from MAE

A lyrical documentary about the Bibliothèque Nationale made for the French Foreign Ministry, Memory reveals the behind-the-scenes activities of the library, following a book from its arrival in the vast institution to its placement on the shelf – a “prisoner” until it is checked out. Resnais investigates the idea of libraries as collective memory aids, a hedge against universal forgetting, with the books and librarians acting as agents in the “slow battle against death.”

Guernica

Directed by Alain Resnais and Robert Hessens.
France 1950, 35mm, b/w, 12 min. French with English subtitles
Print from MAE

Foreshadowing both Night and Fog and Hiroshima mon amour in its innovative form and unflinching content, Guernica uses Picasso’s famous painting as a point of entry to explore the destructive barbarity of war and the resilience of man, editing sections of the painting and other works by Picasso together with photographs of the destroyed city and newspaper headlines, all played over a lyrical narrative written by poet Paul Éluard. The rapid, disorienting editing, dissonant music track and fragmented imagery mirror the tenets of cubism while vividly evoking the physical and psychological toll of war. 

Statues Also Die (Les statues meurent aussi)

Directed by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais.
France 1953, 35mm, b/w, 30 min. French with English subtitles
Print from MAE

This collaboration between Resnais and Chris Marker begins as an examination of African statues that raises questions about their status and presentation in European museums and ultimately becomes an indictment of the history and effects of colonialism and racism. Because Resnais refused to sanction the censored version originally planned for release, the film has only recently become available.

Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard)

Directed by Alain Resnais.
France 1955, 35mm, b/w and color, 31 min. French with English subtitles
Print from MAE

A commission to mark the tenth anniversary of the liberation of the German concentration camps by the Allied forces, Resnais’ famous landmark documentary remains the most powerful condemnation of the Nazi camps to emerge from the postwar era. Combining color tracking shots of postwar Auschwitz with black and white archival photographs and footage of prisoners in the death camps, Resnais draws inexorable links between the past and the present while the film’s chillingly understated narrative – written by concentration camp survivor Jean Cayrol –asks searching questions about accountability and the suppression of truth.


Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top
Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700