Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad returns 

House of 1,000 corpses

Wednesday, Jan 30 2008

Back in the day, literal-minded audiences had great fun pretending to be baffled by this artiest of European art films. Basically, Last Year at Marienbad, which Resnais directed from an original screenplay by "new novelist" Alain Robbe-Grillet, is a situation. The politely avid X (Giorgio Albertazzi) pursues the mysteriously diffident A (Delphine Seyrig) through a huge, mirror-encrusted chateau, complete with formal garden — "a universe," as Robbe-Grillet described it, "of marble and stucco, columns, moldings, gilded ceilings, statues, motionless servants." Gloomy organ music underscores the proceedings as X insists against A's protestations that a year ago she'd promised to leave her husband, M (the cadaverous Sacha Pito), and go off with him. The tension is never resolved: Is X casting a spell or breaking one?

Rialto Pictures

click to enlarge RIALTO PICTURES - All the lonely people
  • Rialto Pictures
  • All the lonely people

Related Stories

  • Alain Resnais Imagined the Whole Memory of the World

    Alain Resnais' last completed film, Life of Riley (2014), presents a group of aging friends who plan, hope, wish, dream and scheme after they learn that one of their own is dying. The doomed man, George Riley, never shown onscreen, is enlisted to join an amateur theater production in the...
  • Road Rager Dies When Car Goes Out of Control in Rialto

    Road rage plagues the nation. But nobody does it like Southern California, a true pioneer in getting into beefs over miscommunication and minor slights on the street. Police today said a 31-year-old woman and her 32-year-old passenger were killed as a result of her unprecedented fit of anger behind the
  • Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel: A Marzipan Monstrosity

    Greetings from the 64th annual Berlin Film Festival, where it’s a surprisingly balmy 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). The weather here may not be business as usual, but the festival looks promising — the competition includes films by Alain Resnais, Lou Ye, Yoji Yamada and Claudia Llosa (whose odd...
  • South Pas Sandwiches 8

    There are many significant reasons to live in South Pasadena - it's beautiful, with wide tree-lined streets and great views of the mountains; it's safe, the South Pasadena Review's Crime Summary is more slapstick than disturbing; the schools are outstanding; and the Thursday evening farmers market is great - but there aren't...
  • Rodney King Compared LAPD Beating to Abuse Suffered by Slaves

    Updated at the bottom with complete audio of the show. First posted at 12:53 a.m. KPFK (90.7 FM) says it probably has the last interview given to the press by Rodney King, who drowned June 17 in his backyard pool in Rialto. The interview will air this morning and stream

All the lonely people
(Click to enlarge)

One thing is certain: Breathtaking in her slouch, the irresistible Seyrig, whose only previous film appearance had been as the put-upon beatnik wife in the entirely different art-house hit Pull My Daisy, transforms the noun "arabesque" into a verb. (Later, the Method-school actress would reveal that many of her poses were improvised on the set.) This languid, elaborately coifed and bejeweled creature — her beyond-Dietrich outfits were designed by an uncredited Coco Chanel — embodies obsession. Is she married to Death, who never loses the version of pickup sticks that would thereafter be known as the "Marienbad game"? Or is it Death who woos her? In either case, the spectator is similarly obliged to surrender to the movie's incantatory rhythms and sublimely maddening mannerisms — or else leave the theater.

In Paris, where Marienbad was compared to Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the movie was an enormous, record-breaking hit, with audiences queuing around the clock at the chic Champs-Elysees cinema where it opened. When Marienbad premiered in New York the following spring at the old Carnegie Hall Cinema, Bosley Crowther, the proudly square New York Times critic, hailed it as "the 'furtherest out' film we've ever had." Jonas Mekas responded in The Village Voice that this only showed how little local reviewers knew about what was going on in contemporary cinema — Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage, for example. Certainly, Marienbad popularized a particular and then-dated surrealist aesthetic.

Hopelessly retro, eternally avant-garde, and one of the most influential movies ever made (as well as one of the most reviled), Marienbad is both utterly lucid and provocatively opaque — an elaborate joke on the world's corniest pickup line and a drama of erotic fixation that takes Vertigo to the next level of abstraction. It's a movie of alarming stasis — elegant zombies positioned like chess pieces in a hypercivilized haunted house — and unsurpassed fluidity. The hypnotic dollies elaborate on those of Resnais' earlier Hiroshima Mon Amour; the montage effortlessly synthesizes past and present, flashback and flash-forward, svelte shock cuts and shock match cuts.

Marienbad eludes tense. The movie is what it is — a sustained mood, an empty allegory, a choreographed moment outside of time, and a shocking intimation of perfection. (Nuart)

Reach the writer at jhoberman@villagevoice.com

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Thu 24
  2. Fri 25
  3. Sat 26
  4. Sun 27
  5. Mon 28
  6. Tue 29
  7. Wed 30

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!


  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.
  • Are Westerns For The Weak? Not According to "Sensei" Martin Kove
    Decades ago, the western film was king, with nearly 100 produced every year at their peak in the 1940s, and their popularity extending years beyond. But today, other than rare successes like Django Unchained or True Grit, the genre is not in great shape. Films such as Cowboys and Aliens and The Lone Ranger failed to spark new interests in the western. It's a tough nut to crack, but veteran movie bad guy Martin Kove -- most well known for his role as Sensei John Kreese in The Karate Kid -- is passionate about the classic American film genre and is trying to revive it. We spent an afternoon at his home talking about westerns and how to make the genre interesting again. All photos by Jared Cowan.

Now Trending