Fox Lorber has re-released the great Alain Resnais’ 1961 Last Year At Marienbad, an intellectual Rubik’s Cube of a film written by Alain Robbe-Grillet.
In an elegant, nameless European spa, a beautiful woman (the late Delphine Seyrig) encounters a mysterious man (Giorgio Albertazzi) who she may or may not have met the previous year in Marienbad (or was it Karlstadt or Frederiksbad?) and who has come back to take her away from a man (the cadaverous Sascha Piteoff) who may or may not be her husband. Resnias and Robbe-Grillet have constructed a film that plays like a surreal, languid dream where the narrative is presented in broken shards of memories and fantasies, presented often out of sequence, where any explanation of the mysterious events on the screen may suffice. While it’s tempting to read the film as Albertazzi’s seduction of Serying by imagining elaborate fantasies for her, it has also been suggested that Albertazzi is death, come to collect Seryig after a year’s reprieve.
Renasis’ camera slowly tracks through the dead elegance of the idle rich, carefully posed like mannequins, who if not actually dead, are living in a kind of social purgatory of their own making where even their memories have been blurred by their seemingly eternal ennui. It may be one of the most demanding films ever made – Resnias and Robbe-Grillet don’t explain anything and ask the audience to do the work – but it’s an extremely rare film in that subsequent viewings reveal things each time you see it (notice the profile of Alfred Hitchcock on an elevator door?) The wide screen black and white images here by Sacha Vierny (who would shoot Bunuel’s Belle De Jour and is now Peter Greenaway’s photographer) are flawless, and Renais’ direction is eerily brilliant, presenting a slow motion world of zombie-like socialites whose behavior seems otherworldly.
To say the least, a unique experience.