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She, He, The Bomb & A Perspective…

August 6, 1945 is one of the darkest days in World History. The US Armed Forces dropped the world’s first atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima! Just a few moments… thousands and thousands of lives, with their charred body parts, experienced the brutality! Sensitive people across the globe roared in protest against this inhumane act! Not only politicians, but artists, writers, painters from different countries joined the protests through various ways… music, theatre, films, etc. They showed that Hiroshima was destroyed, but not lost!

The wound was still fresh (along with the memory of massacre in Nagasaki on August 9) in human minds even a decade later. The Spring arrived in Paris. The new French film directors started visiting Brasserie area in Paris to exchange new ideas in order to create something new by breaking the traditional grammar of cinema. Peace used to prevail at the surroundings of Café Procope. In such an atmosphere, five eminent personalities reserved their seats inside the Café. Jean-Luc Godard, François Roland Truffaut, Claude Henri Jean Chabrol, Éric Rohmer and Jacques RivetteAndré Bazin, their mentor, often joined them at the Café. The topic of their discussion was the forthcoming issue of the Cahiers du Cinema film magazine. They also discussed about some released movies, movies soon to be released, their dialogues, and some related thoughts…

Café Procope

There were broad streets and wider sidewalks in front of the two-story Café Procope. Many visitors preferred the second floor… Alain Resnais was one of them. As if he was waiting for someone with a cup of coffee! May be, Resnais was reminiscing the past events…

Resnais’ documentary film on the abduction and disappearance of some Jewish prisoners of a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, titled ‘Nuit et Bou‘ (‘Night and Fog’ made in 1956), had already been in the limelight at the Cannes Film Festival. The film had been widely praised by contemporary French filmmakers. Many compared his film with Francisco Goya’s paintings or Franz Kafka’s literary works! Truffaut commented: “‘Night and Fog’ is the greatest film ever made.” Resnais’ documentary ‘Night and Fog’ was screened before ‘A Married Woman’ by Godard at the festival as per the latter’s wish. Here lies the success of Resnais. Memories of the persecution at the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, which had taken place 10 years ago, breathed new life through the language and technique of his film.

Alain Resnais

Resnais’ first love was theatre. At the age of 17, he moved to Paris from the north-western French city of Vénissieux in 1939 to join the Théâtre des Mathurins, the traditional theatre company of Georges Pitoëff, as an actor. The WWII had just started at that time… as a student of Film Editing, he got renowned filmmaker Jean Grémillon as his instructor. The depth of Grémillon’s concept had a great impact on Resnais’ thought process. During this period, Resnais got an offer to make a documentary film on Vincent van Gogh! The film bagged an award at the Venice Biennale Festival. While staying in Paris, Resnais developed a great interest in modern paintings. Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin had created their masterpieces even after experiencing the pain. Resnais made an attempt to capture their passion in his own canvas, a different form of documentary films…

Jean Grémillon

Resnais was a genius. He had the skill of documenting the history of the oppressed and the defeated in films! He had to recreate the past events over and over, and that too in film’s own language! A production company was looking for another documentary in 1958… this time, on Hiroshima. Japan had experienced this catastrophe nearly 12 years before that. The success of the atomic explosion registered a temporary victory over the humanity. However, the subsequent history was of Creation. Only human beings can say the final word of victory. Resnais informed the producers that he would not make the documentary, as no information or image could be created with new ideas! Instead, the story would have to be told in a different form, with the help of small flashbacks…

Resnais was waiting for Marguerite Duras at Café Procope. Duras was a French novelist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and experimental filmmaker. Resnais had already chosen a title of the film: ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ or ‘Hiroshima, My Love’! Duras, too, had written down the famous first dialogue of the film: “You’ve seen nothing in Hiroshima, nothing!” Could we ever really see the ruins of Hiroshima through the eyes of the camera? In the initial montage of the film, Resnais showed the history of destruction secured its place in human mind decades later. He never wept in silence, instead… Hiroshima experienced anger, sadness, pain, and despair, just like a testament. The city was rebuilt… However, the horror of the past was still there! Helpless and speechless citizens were lying at hospitals in the dead city. And, the memory of the destruction of human civilisation in Hiroshima was carefully being preserved in the museum.

Marguerite Duras

Resnais’ camera tried to show the immortal existence of number to victims… burnt hair, burnt skin, and much more. Resnais recreated the moment when the atom bomb was dropped. We had seen a lot, but the feelings were unfamiliar. With the help of the dramatic mix of montage, the director prompted the viewers to get familiar with the two main characters at the beginning of the documentary. We know them as she and he. While the female character was played by Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada portrayed the male character. The human face of the screenplay was carefully arranged following the formulae of documentary and storytelling. Later, Resnais said that he accepted the project in order to experience the difficulties of making a film. And, this difficulty or impossibility became the main structure of the film. As far as the cinematography is concerned, ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ is still considered as a fine example of modern French film.

While creating the central narrative of the film, Resnais recounted the painful memories of a woman’s past love. When the Germans occupied France during the WWII, a woman fell in love with a German soldier in Nevers. On the day of France’s liberation, a member of the French Resistance killed the German soldier with a sniper rifle. The woman felt the emptiness with her silent emotion… and, tried to live with the memories of love. Her mother advised the woman to leave Nevers. The woman found similarity between her emotional memory in Nevers, and the bombing in Hiroshima! As she experienced both death and destruction, the woman realised the pain of the residents of Hiroshima.

Eiji Okada & Emmanuelle Riva

Hiroshima Mon Amour’ was not officially allowed to participate in the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. The purpose was to avoid a political conflict between France and the US. The Festival screened a number of new films, including Truffaut’s ‘The 400 Blows’ and Godard’s ‘Breathless’, that year. However, the Jury appreciated Resnais’ ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’, which bagged the Fipresci International Critics’ Prize at Cannes. Also, Duras’ script for ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ earned her a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards…

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