It looks more and more probable that a society of mass prosperity (psycho-sociologically based on consumerism and entertainment – the two functions on the same semantic stem: consumption of things and images, as it is depicted in Resnais’ film) cannot be understood without its next step – society of mass austerity (the path we are already on, especially in US). The seemingly extreme contrast between the two types of society (prosperity and austerity are like sunlight and darkness of a cave) makes it almost impossible for the people-the victims of austerity to effectively resist austerity policies. Decades of pop-prosperity made people changed in such a radical way (not only made them to believe in prosperity as irreversible achievement of democratic society, but as achievement which is synonymous with democracy), that they can be absolutely shattered by this drastic and cruel reversal – become clinically depressed and silently suffer their humiliation, hunger and a lack of medical care. Or they could be able only to protest with emotional outbursts and desperate challenging the robots in police or military uniforms.

The fake and “repressively de-sublimated” nature of post-WWII material prosperity was for years difficult to notice – the attempts to do so looked like political dogmatism. Mass-cultural (non- or under-educated in humanistic sciences) people took fake/cheap prosperity and the appeal of entertainment to the demos as real democracy in action, while in reality it was rather an ingenious political strategy enhanced by entertaining technology and electronic toys. Throughout post-WWII decades of “democratic permissiveness” democracy acted repressively, mainly in a new way – not directly, but indirectly – through seductive distraction instead of repressive destruction. Simultaneously, Americans were addressed by the flattering propaganda as super-humans living in a super-country – a unique and great democracy (we see the French variant of existential results of this kind of propaganda in “Muriel…”). After such aggrandizing picture of the inhabitants of democracy how can they be the objects of austerity policies is beyond the grasp of today’s austerity victims. It’s so deeply against what demos thought about their country and themselves.

During the pseudo-democratic prosperity and antidemocratic entertainment (taking from people the very ability to think realistically) people lost the mental function necessary to perceive reality as it is, so different from what was so pleasant to watch in commercial movies and animation cartoons and listen in rock-concerts. Resnais’ “Muriel…” shows us the condition of people who are in the next historical period (which is beyond the film’s intentions) will become the victims of austerity. Resnais gives us chance to understand what made us unable to comprehend real life because of systematic internalizing of entertaining mass cultural clichés.
Versatility of the type of people we see in the film and “pluralism” of the situations in which the characters are happily “locked” and happy to be “trapped” by private happiness and public amusements are overwhelming. The film provides ample examples of monstrous naiveté of people who mechanically adapt to circumstances instead of analyzing life and the world (for example charmingly gracious Helene and her on-and-off lover Alfonse perceive war as if it’s something like a natural disaster and not a result of decision-making by concrete people representing social institutions, the war, to which every person is better supposed to adapt to).

People live calculatingly focusing on success of their “survival, and, in the same time, thoughtlessly. Their way of life doesn’t include thinking about existentially-spiritual side of life and the ability to think critically. Philistines are transformed into robotic consumers of what is possible to consume and identifiers with existing entertainment patterns. Only one character among the personages of the film (Bernard, a young vet just back from French war in Algeria) is able to think about how to live in morally more decent way. He allows himself, may be, a final luxury today – to place his conscience as a mediation between his eyes and his life. Only Bernard understand that human life in a time of “Muriel…” is “mandatory constructed” as not recognizable for what it is.

Prosperity as a part of consumerist way of life, according to Resnais is a modern decision-makers’ repressive strategy de-sublimating the human soul and making people psychologically child-like – creatures who are “proud“ to have the “civil right” to buy drinking water and happily eat food impregnated with fat, caffeine and sugar and to enjoy and identify with entertainment and infotainment that make them as adults to use associations they remembered from cartoons of their childhood (in his film of 1993, Resnais shows adult person who continues to talk with cartoon characters of her childhood – “I Want to go Home”).

In this review of “Muriel, Or The Time of Return” we don’t emphasize historical discrepancies between French and American life, while intentionally underline the similarities. The film is analyzing Western mass-cultural life and what ideology of enhanced philistinism makes with people’s mind, heart and perception of the world and human life.

The exceptional actors who impersonate human destinies through the acting as a dialogue with viewers (not like movie stars demonstrating their “irresistible tremendousness”) – Delphine Seyrig (Helene), Jean-Baptiste Thierree (Bernard), Jean Champion (Ernest), Jean-Pierre Kerien (Alfonse), Jean Daste (Goat businessman), Philippe Laudenbach (Robert) and others, help us to reflect how it is possible to come from prosperity to austerity and from orientation on peace to orientation on war.

Bernard (Helene’s stepson) – Jean-Baptiste Thierree, is a person who, because of his experience of military service during the war and torments of conscience found himself upon return to France in a position of “austerity” victim – consumerism and entertainment were dead for him and a permanent vigil of his soul and mind became his fellow-traveler to the end of his life. But Bernard is so traumatized by the cruelty of the unjust treatment of the Algerians by the French that even he cannot resist the utopian solution – he scapegoats Robert, his fellow soldier, who indeed was involved in criminal doings during the war and now, back in France was protected by the French army authorities from punishment. Bernard scapegoated Robert, as if, he wasn’t able to grasp, that Robert is just a robotic pan in a vicious systemic game and that the general atmosphere of moral darkness is inseparable from the very existence of war of aggression and occupation.

Through logical tricks and psychological games Robert (Philippe Laudenbach), being afraid that Bernard (to the left – Jean-Baptiste Thierree) will testify against him, is trying to keep Bernard under control

Ernest (Jean Champion), the brother of Alfonse’s wife, Simone, has come to Boulogne-sur-Mer to find him and to try to bring him back to Simone and their bankrupt restaurant business. Don’t be misled by the exhausted, soft and helpless facial expression of this eternal fighter for family and business values.

Does the relationship between Helene (Delphine Seyrig) and her stepson (Bernard – Jean-Baptiste Thierree) hint at mutually shared painful secret?

Can the fact that Bernard volunteered to French army during the war in Algeria be connected with an amorous mystery of their relationship?

Like a vulgar blob Helene’s customer (a woman hunting for antic furniture) is blocking not only poor Helene’s world but our, the viewers of the film, view. As we see, even Helene, an extra sensitive and refined person, is able to produce a fake smile. What else even the best among us can do in front of money?

Francoise (Nita Klein) is not embarrassed in front of Helene by the fact that she is pretending to be Alfonse’ niece while in reality is his girlfriend, when Helene invited Alfonse (her lover) to stay in her place and Alfonse lied about Francoise’s status. But this niece/girlfriend, being an actress by profession easily follows the sociological concept of social role-playing, characterizing post-modernity

Roland de Smoke (on the left – Claude Sainval), Helene’s business guru and amorous backup, is irresistible as a restaurant dinners companion. Pay attention to how Helene is fascinated by de Smoke’s witty-gritty stories.

Desperate existential pantomime of Simone, Alfonse’s wife, in vain looking for her husband in Helene’s abandoned apartment

Simone (Francoise Bertin), who came for Alfonse to try to take him home, is surprised that the door to Helene’s apartment is opened

Simone is looking for her husband in one wing of the apartment

Simone is looking for her husband in another wing of the apartment

The person, she is looking for, her husband Alfonse, is not here, like all another people, living or visiting this place. And if they are somewhere else, they‘re already not themselves, and, perhaps not even somebodies else. Ontological disappearance is a psycho-spiritual suicide or being victim of (psycho-spiritual) homicide committed by the dominant person over the dominated one or a politico-economic system over a population. Ontological disappearance (and its symptoms – ontological lack and ontological inferiority) is the result of existentially-spiritual castration.

The readers/viewers are invited to try to think about the terms which can define the difference between Helene’s (the main character of the film – Delphine Seyrig) chronic suffering and the permanent grief of Simone (Francoise Bertin) stuck between ontological disappearance and ontological self-reduction into ultimate unresolvable torment.

Posted May/25/’17 –   Alan Resnais’ “Muriel, Or the Time of Return/Muriel ou Le temps d’un retour” (1963)* – Ontological Disappearance As A Metaphoric Characterization Of The Loss Of Holistic Personalities/Identities By The Inhabitants Of Today’s Western Post-democracies by Acting-Out Politics