Resnais, Alain

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Resnais, Alain

Alain Resnais (älăN´ rānā´), 1922–2014, French filmmaker. Although not an official member of the French cinema's "new wave" movement, he shared its innovative and personal approach to style, content, and narrative. His work, however, was more in the modernist literary tradition, less linear, more concerned with form and cinematic theory, and more overtly interested in social and political issues. His films also often display a unique preoccupation with time and memory.

Resnais began his career in 1947, directing short documentaries on various subjects in the arts, e.g., Van Gogh (1948, Academy Award) and a study of Picasso's Guernica (1950). The last and most acclaimed of these, Nuit et Brouillard (1955, Night and Fog), is an examination of Nazi concentration camps. In his early features, Resnais often collaborated with contemporary novelists associated with the post–World War II antinaturalistic nouveau roman [new novel], and he frequently employed flashback and fast-forward techniques that emphasized the mutability of time. Resnais reflected his documentary experience in his first feature, the haunting Hiroshima mon amor (1959), with screenplay by Marguerite Duras, which merges present and past in a story of a passionate love affair that also recounts and documents the destruction of Hiroshima. His second feature, L'Annèe dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad, 1961), written by Alain Robbe-Grillet, is the paradigm of European art films: an enigmatic, evocative, and exquisitely composed work that explores perception, time, and the ambiguities of memory.

Among Resnais' other films are Muriel (1963); La guerre est finie (The War Is Over, 1966), which mingles political intrique with elements of personal alienation and intimacy; Stavisky (1974), another political work drawn from a 1930s French scandal; Providence (1977), his first English-language feature; and the witty, prize-winning Mon Oncle d'Amérique (1980). Later films are more free-form and antirealistic, and were generally less popular with critics and the public. These include La Vie est un roman (Life Is a Bed of Roses, 1983), Mélo (1986), Smoking/No Smoking (1993), On connait la chanson (Same Old Song, 1997), and Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places, 2006). Though Resnais directed dozens of films, his last documentary and his first two features remain the most influential and best known.

See studies by R. Ames (1968), J. Ward (1968), J. Monaco (1978, 1979), F. Sweet (1981), H. Callev (1997), E. Wilson (2006), and H. Vaughan (2013).

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