The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD (1961) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD (1961)

A man attempts to convince a woman that they conducted an affair the previous year.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alain Resnais

Starring: Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoëff


When it premiered at the 1961 Venice Film Festival, Alain Resnais' sophomore feature, Last Year in Marienbad, scooped the fest's top prize - the Golden Lion. 57 years later, Resnais' still confounding film returned to Venice in a newly restored 4K print, much of the restoration funded by fashion house Chanel, whose Gabrielle Chanel designed the sumptuous and chic outfits sported by the film's female lead, Delphine Seyrig. This restoration has now made its way to disc courtesy of Studiocanal, its puzzle preserved to bewitch, bother and bewilder a new generation of arthouse fans.

Resnais' film, scripted by novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, is Arthouse with a capital A, a challenging work that frustrates and beguiles in equal measure. Try to make sense of its non-linear timeline and you may end up in a padded cell. It's a movie that's perhaps best not thought about too much, rather enjoyed on an emotional, sensual level, where it offers many delights.


The story, if you will, takes place in an elegant spa resort and concerns a man, unnamed in the film but referred to in the script as 'X' (Giorgio Albertazzi), who attempts to convince a woman, 'A' (Seyrig), that they met the previous year while staying at the resort and after conducting a brief affair, made a pact that they would meet in a year's time and elope together. 'A' denies all knowledge of ever meeting 'X', who spends most of the film recounting little details of the time he believes they shared together, driving 'A' closer and closer to the edge of sanity with his persistence. Meanwhile, a second man, 'M' (Sacha Pitoëff), who may or may not be the woman's husband or lover, lurks in the background when he's not continually beating 'X' at numerous variations of the mathematical game of Nim.

Resnais was always notoriously coy, as any filmmaker should be, when asked what the meaning of his bemusing drama might possibly be. Various theories have been offered over the years - that it's simply all a dream; that it's an update of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice; that the hotel represents limbo and all its guests are spirits of the dead.


Perhaps, as Resnais suggests, it is all meaningless, but it's difficult not to consider Last Year in Marienbad a picture about the filmmaking process, with 'X' a director growing increasingly exasperated by the failure of his leading lady to recognise and respond to his vision. Anyone who has made a film will tell you the finished product, no matter how successful, generally pales in comparison to the film they devised in their head, the ambition of 'last year' lost to the reality of the present.

Might the focus on a perplexing loss of memory be Resnais commenting on how at the time of his film's production, France's military was oppressing the citizens of Algeria not long after the country had experienced similar treatment at the hands of the Nazis? That Marienbad is bracketed in the director's filmography by films dealing with World War II (1959's Hiroshima mon amour) and the Algerian conflict (1963's Muriel) may lend weight to such surmising.


Regardless of its meaning or lack thereof, Last Year in Marienbad is a entrancing experience, one best viewed on the largest screen possible, allowing you to lose yourself in the endless corridors of both the film's set and the minds of its creators. It's inspired countless filmmakers over the decades and its influence can be seen in Kubrick's The Shining, the somnambulistic horrors of Jean Rollin and much of David Lynch's explorations of fractured identity (Agent Cooper's final cry of "What year is it?" could be made by a viewer at any given point in the jumbled up narrative of Marienbad).

I've often wondered too if the people behind the James Bond series weren't inspired by Resnais' film. The dynamic between its three leads plays like a pared down version of that found in every 007 adventure - a hero (X) and villain (M) determined to outdo the other while a female finds herself reduced to the role of prize. Watching a group of Marienbad's male guests turning one by one in choreographed fashion before firing pistols on a shooting range, it's difficult not to think of the short walk, pivot and shoot that Bond performs at the beginning of every instalment, and surely the manicured grounds of the resort inspired the opening sequence of From Russia with Love?

Three docs - Resnais and Robbe-Grillet: The Wanderers of Imagination, In the Labyrinth of Marienbad, and a doc on the career of Resnais; Interview with Film Historian Ginette Vincendeau; two of Resnais' short films - The Styrene's Song and All the Memory of the World; trailer.

Last year in Marienbad is on blu-ray and DVD now from Studiocanal.