“My films are my attempts, still very crude and primitive to come closer to the complexity of thought as such, to its mechanism”

Alain Resnais

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Alain Resnais wasn’t just a “film-maker”, but a master of cinema as an art form and an original and independent thinker through the moving images. Resnais’ artistic paradigm is so multifaceted and so unique in his ability to create between “images” and “ideas” – semantic or thinking images – images-ideas. He is a thinker about human life by the very cinematic form he innovates again and again.

In his “Hiroshima, mon amour” (1959) we meet the human beings who can be our “role models”, not in the Hollywood socio-morphic sense as models for our behavior or “character” in a sense of personality, but in terms of human ability to go through existentially spiritual journey. The main heroes of the film – a French woman visiting Hiroshima (Emmanuele Riva) and a Japanese man (Eiji Okada) are role models for our psychological development, although the film is in no way didactic or moralistic. Their personalities and relationship are elaborated in Duras’ script and Resnais detalization in a too unique way to be just readily transferable/projectable onto the lives of the viewers according to reflex of the viewers’ identification with the heroes based on banal principle of similarity. “Hiroshima, mon amour” is Resnais’ only film (for all his years of being with cinema and with us), when the director not only unconditionally respects the main characters but admires them to the point of, as if, entrusting to them the very future of humanity.

These characters are comparable with the main characters of his “La Guerre est finie/The War is Over” (1966) who also, as if, “keep the key” to the next period of human history. During the post WWII economic boom amidst a mushrooming prosperity they decided to change the very modality of their life and fight for farther humanization and democratization of human society. They came to the conclusion that traditional ways of political resistance became outdated and that it’s necessary to invent alternatives to the existing norms of living directly from the existence. Diego Mora (Ives Montand) and his wife (Ingrid Thulin) are represented by Resnais in a much less monumental elaboration than the style of “Hiroshima, mon amour”, but we see in them similar courage of will, of the heart and mind. They react on the objective changes in the very ways of living and feelings about the world, connected with the development of mass-cultural pseudo-prosperity and the gilded consumerism in Western Democracies.

“La guerre est finie/The War is Over” (1966) Ingrid Thulin and Ives Montand

With “Providence” (1977) Resnais for the last time in his film-life (although another 36 years of work were ahead) “visits” the character he can admire (Clive Langham – John Gielgud). But the director was already forced (by the truth of the atmosphere of the historical epoch) to stylize Clive, to balance the beautiful excesses of his character personifying the genius of the Liberal Democracy with its aspirations and achievements – Resnais sometimes shows Clive as he could be seen by the epoch that already started to flatten and curb democracy. It is not impossible to include his recent “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” (2012) in the same stream of films dedicated to the heroes of human history fighting for ennobling the human soul – for democratization of human soul and life – “Hiroshima, mon amour”, “La guerre est finie” and “Providence”). Only in “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” (the title refers to the nearing future ordeals for human race created by our predatoriness, stupidity and anti-spirituality) the heroes of human history keep universal human reference inside the problematic of private life, love and death (Orpheus and Eurydice’s story symbolizes the general existential potentials of human beings while retreating from life into mythological narration). These four films mark the most sublime pages of Resnais’ achievements in his representation of human types.

“Providence” (1977) Resnais and John Gielgud (Clive Langham)

The second current of Resnais’ films picturing human types of modernity include: “Muriel or the Time of a Return” (1963), “Je t’aime, je t’aime” (1967), Mon Oncle D’Amerique” (1980) and “Same Old Song” (1997). The main protagonists of these films are not heroes of spiritual and intellectual courage as it’s the case with the first set of films, but rather are – victims of the system of life and human values and of their own vulnerability, circumstances and passions.

In “Muriel or the Time of Return” Resnais represents the extraordinary and always admirable Helene Aughain (Delphine Seyrig), a person whose basic style of meeting the world is feeling fragile because of her gentleness and sensitivity. The beauty of emotional trembling of her reactions is reflected in her appearance and in her unique and non-imposing way. In her youth Helene suffered from an innocent rudeness of the ordinary people, but even her more or less prosperous life didn’t make her less gracious. Even her tiny vulgarities inseparable from modern “survival” are gracious. She is irrecoverably lost, in especially unprotected way, amidst other people who are also lost but feel compensated by the anonymous prosperity of standard consumerism. Helene feels lost in spite of prosperity while regular people are satisfied with consumerist fillings in the cavities of their souls. Helene is a victim of a system that implies a completely artificial life where humanism castrated itself through Faustian bargain with total orientation on material prosperity and social success as goals of human life.

“Muriel or the Time of Return” (1963) Resnais with Delphine Seyrig (Helene Aughain)

The main character of “Je t’aime, je t’aime” becomes the honorable victim of prestigious but destructive to the human soul scientific experiments. The film gives us chance to observe how technical science becomes an extension of a totalitarian neglect of human dignity. In “Mon oncle D’Amerique” Resnais depicts how human beings are made to adapt to circumstances created by a socio-political environment and be transformed into helpless and cruel creatures, simultaneously predators and prey. Finally, in “Same Old Song” we for the last time in Resnais’ cinema see the people who while being already dehumanized and caught in the net of everyday vanity, were still with some grace and noble potentials. Resnais somehow makes us feel that their triviality is not their essence, but their factual condition, that they are not proudly identifying with it.

“Same Old Song” (1997) Agnes Jaoui (also co-author of the screenplay) and Lambert Wilson

The human types of the third current of Resnais’ films are “mutants”: those who are just adapting to the demands of survival and success as it exist in a certain time and place (“Last Year in Marienbad” – 1961, “Stavisky” – 1974, “I Want To Go Home” – 1989, “Not on the Lips” – 2003, “Private Fears in Public Places” – 2007, and “Wild Grass” – 2009.

“Last Year in Marienbad” is Resnais’ first attempt of researching into a robotization of human soul (and routinization/ritualization of human behavior) by socio-cultural structures. This examination took the form of making his camera into an aesthetic magnifying glass producing effect of highest degree of reality stylization. Resnais wants to trace the details of the transformation of personal love into idolized mannequin-like fetish which, as if, capable of saving people from the meaninglessness of their life.

“Stavisky” concentrates on the power of profit idolization as a malignant psychological archetype sacrificing human beings to the irresistible Moloch of money created by the (psychological) alchemy of those hooked on the idea of invulnerability to mortality. It’s very important that Resnais in the film juxtaposes Stavisky as the personification of drive for power through money, with Trotsky as the personification of a more traditional drive for power through ideological fetish. Another meaningful accent the film makes is the angelic revolutionaries – the neatly looking young people on their way to self-realization through sacrificing themselves for the sake of idolized humanity.

“Stavisky” (1974) Jean-Paul Belmondo in the role of Stavisky (standing) and Anny Duperey

With “I Want to Go Home” Resnais creates a comedy of horrifying absurdities in communications and relations between Americans and Europeans. The film suggests that the real possibility of our apocalyptic future not so far away. The film terrifies with its very laughter at us and our historical dreams. In this sense it is a preface to the history of 21st century. It’s imperative for every American to see this film in order to understand better what’s happening with our world today.

“Not on the Lips”, “Private Fears in Public Space” and “Wild Grass” are Resnais beyond Resnais “as we know him” and beyond the democratic world we are used to. To see the ossification of Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi and Andre Dissolier masterfully playing human mutants (no sci-fi involved) in these late Resnais’ films is the most painful aesthetic experience possible to imagine and the hardest lesson from Resnais to the viewers about the necessity to be able to look at the truth of the changing reality of our life.

At this point, moved by a bit shameful nostalgia we remember Resnais’ films of the fourth and final category of human types he shared with us – the “talented, touching and, yes, adorable escapists” whom Resnais loves without endorsing in his “Love Unto Death” (1984), “Smoking/No Smoking” (1993) and “Melo” (1988). It was necessary to have Resnais’ incredible, superhuman courage and his philosophical predisposition as an artist to show the objective degradation of humanity in his films of 21st century. It is as impossible to watch “Not on the Lips” or “Wild Grass”, as necessary to follow Resnais in his analysis where we are going, and, may be, finding what to do to be able to stop.

“Love Unto death” (1984) Resnais, Sabine Azema and Andre Dissolier

“Love Unto Death” (1984) Pierre Arditi and Sabine Azema

“Love Unto Death” (1984) Sabine Azema and Pierre Arditi

“Melo” (1988) Sabine Azema and Andre Dissolier

Resnais’ “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” is his latest warning about the coming of “Nothing” and at the same time a call for returning to human cultural springs – to the basic archetypes of our civilization – to the disinterestedness of our aspirations and dreams: of life without calculation, of love without manipulation, of art free from vicious virtues of exchange value, of thinking holistically.

Alain Resnais and Sabine Azema