In the opening minutes of Alain Resnais’s “Hiroshima mon amour” (1959), it is easy to be moved (and discomforted) by the powerful images that are shown. This first section of the movie, filmed in part documentary-style, consists of numerous images detailing the effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. These pictures and videos, showing the damage to both the city and its people, are intercut with an unknown couple talking about Hiroshima, and their memories surrounding this horrific event.
After these opening minutes we learn that “she” (Emmanuelle Riva) is a French actress, with only 36 hours until a flight will return her to Paris. “He” (Eiji Okada) is a Japanese businessman, who’s also involved in politics. They met the previous evening and have spent the night together, despite both being married. The remainder of the film is spent with the two nameless characters, as they recount the painful details of their lives to each other, always relating things back to WWII and the trauma that war has caused them both.
Many things have been said about “Hiroshima mon amour,” all of it good. Jean-Luc Godard said, “(Its) the first film without any cinematic references,” and Leonard Maltin called it, “The “Birth of a Nation” of the French new wave.” It’s easy to see how the structure and framing of “Hiroshima mon amour” is revolutionary. There aren’t other films like this one. It’s completely different from everything that came before, and it helped inspire an entire generation of filmmakers to create something new and exciting. The masterful editing (Jasmine Chasney & Henri Colpi), impeccable directing (Alain Resnais) and Academy Award nominated screenplay (Marguerite Duras) combine to make a film the likes of which would be copied for years to come. This film’s contribution to the advancement of cinematic excellence is insurmountable. There are so few films that you can see and instantly know that they paved the way for the future.
Now toss aside the craft of “Hiroshima mon amour,” and look at it simply for its captivating story. Two lovers, with no prior connection, meet and are instantly drawn to one another. What is it that ties them together? Their entire relationship (and all ones that came before) are related to WWII and the bombing of Hiroshima. The mundane existence that surrounds them now is nothing but a shadow of who they were before these horrific events took place. Do these two actually love one another, or is it just a shared, pain-based bond, holding them together?
Something that seems to be a prerequisite for most Alain Resnais films is great acting that seemingly blends into the overall picture. Emmanuelle Riva gives a moving performance, full of emotion, that is completely reliant on her expressing the sadness of her youth. Eiji Okada’s character required a natural melancholy feel, and he delivers beautifully as well. The weight of the world seems to be on his shoulders, and yet there is a compassion in his eyes that fills the audience with hope for the future. Together, these two making a stirring duo that leaves you hoping- praying that they will find a way to turn their lives into something that resembles happiness.