Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Great Movies: "Last Year in Marienbad"

Last Year at Marienbad
Alain Resnais, 1961

This is one of those highly stylized European films where emotionally flattened interactions take place at a languid pace in surreal settings. In these movies, telling a coherent story takes a back seat to style, mood, and image. Proponents of such films celebrate their broadening of ideas about what cinema can achieve, what it can be. Others find them insufferable. I think both viewpoints are basically correct.

Plot: At an excruciatingly posh resort hotel, a man tries to convince a woman that they had an affair the previous year. It is possible that he is telling the truth, or that he is making it all up. It is also possible that he raped her last year, or that he died last year and is now a ghost. It sounds like a more interesting puzzle than it actually is.

Visuals: Magnificently shot in black and white, with lots of memorable images.

Dialog: In French with subtitles, underlain by interminable pipe organ music.

Prognosis: I don't see any particular reason for you to subject yourself to this one.


Karin said...

Would it help if I muted it? I like magnificent images. And French.

Anonymous said...

Having arrived home in time to catch maybe the last ten minutes of this one, (which I've heard described in glowing terms by people I respect), I was perhaps unfairly tuned into its laughable aspects. The organ WAS ungodly, though it was doing battle with an equally interminable voiceover in the second person. I would nevertheless have to answer, based on the woodenly histrionic poses I saw struck in the closing scenes, that muting wouldn't help enough.

Yankee in England said...

I am really sad I got all excited to see it until the end when you told me not to subject myslef.

I guess I must just like highly stylized European films.

Christine M. said...

I had to watch this in a film class and actually fell asleep.

Jennifer said...

There seems to be a clear pattern with a lot of these "great" movies (or whatever the adjective was). . .

Chance said...

I admire your ability to dwell in two camps.

Why do you not offer a book of the far more entertaining MONDAY quizzes?

Anonymous said...

In real, non-blog life, is your name actually something like Gerry 5000?

Michael5000 said...

@Karin: It would help if you muted it and cranked up some old school electronica.

@Yank: Don't take MY word for it. It's been described in glowing terms by people that Mrs.5000 respects! And by Roger Ebert! I encourage you to watch it, love it, and come back here to write a scatheing rebuttal!

@Serendipity: I think you are implying that I hate all of them. This has been remarked several times, but it's not really true. I'd actually say I LOVE 25% of them, LIKE 25% but find them not completely entertaining because of their datedness, DON'T PARTICULARLY ENJOY, YET RECOGNIZE QUALITIES OF IMPORTANCE OR EXCELLENCE IN most of the rest, including Marienbad. When I make my "prognosis," I'm not trying to summarize the role of the film in the history of cinema, just dispensing advice on whether my imagined average reader might want to rush out and watch it.

@Chance: Frankly, because the colored ink cartridges are so much more expensive.

@Karma: As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my family name was changed from Funftausend at Ellis Island. I'm amazed that you guessed the "Gerry" part, though!

Jennifer said...

Gurk. So much for my attempt to save our national economy by reducing my word usage.

I wasn't trying to imply that there was a pattern of you hating the movies, though it has also been pretty clear to me since the beginning of your project that anybody picking up Ebert's guide should be aware that his idea of "great" movies does not tally with many people's favorite movies.

I have pretty high confidence, by the way, that I could accurately predict whether I would enjoy a particular movie you've reviewed, which I think is very cool, and exactly what I look for in a critic. (But do I lose points for admitting that I haven't watched any of the movies I thought I would like based on your comments?)

I was actually trying to comment on--by which I mean totally failing to comment on--the kinds of films that Ebert chooses as great, which include a lot of films that I am, for various reasons, undisposed to like, or even appreciate. But then this is why I haven't used Ebert as a critic whose opinions I follow.

I do enjoy examining reviews (his and/or yours) as little capsules of evidence regarding aesthetic preferences: to what extent do readers (I mean viewers!) privilege art over affective engagement or vice versa (to the extent that those are separable), e.g.?

I also think how Ebert's evaluations have changed over time (or, equally possibly, for different audiences) is interesting: he apparently ranked Body Heat (which you called a good movie) #8 in its year (1981), behind My Dinner with Andre, Chariots of Fire, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to name a few. (Andre and Raiders also apparently made his best-of-decade list, unlike Body Heat. . .) Certainly, he's allowed to change his mind, but--well, I guess I'll leave that rant for another time. I'm probably heading towards too many words here, just like I had too few words earlier.