For this assignment, I am taking a structuralistic, feministic and psychoanalytic reading of the film Hiroshima mon Amour. Hiroshima mon Amour was written by Marguerite Duras and directed by Alain Resnais in 1959. Marguerite Duras was nominated for an Academy Award Oscar – Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Alain Resnais was nominated for the Cannes Golden Palm and won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts – UN Award. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominated Resnais for the Best Film From Any Source Award and Emmanuelle Riva as Best Foreign Actress.
The Directors Guild of America nominated Resnais for the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Award. The film tied for Best Film from the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics and won Best Foreign Language Film from the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Background In this film, a young, married French woman, Elle, played by Emmanuelle Riva, her first film, spends the night with a young, married Japanese man, Lui, played by Eiji Okada. They are in Hiroshima, where he lives. He is an architect and she is an actress. She is in Hiroshima shooting an international film about peace.
He reminds her of a German soldier she knew during World War II – the first man she ever fell in love with. During the course of the movie, she reveals her war story to the architect. Structuralistic View of Hiroshima mon Amour Structurally, Hiroshima mon Amour is written with many parallel stories to tie together. Our first glimpse of “current day” Hiroshima is a long tracking shot from what appears to be the point of view of Elle. It appears as though she is on a bicycle, although that is never made clear. She discusses all of the places she has seen in Hiroshima.
As she does this, we see all of those places in the tracking shot. We also hear Lui interjecting that she “has not seen Hiroshima. ” Those interjections let us know that Elle has just seen the tourist attractions and does not really know the true life of Hiroshima. Interestingly, as the film unfolds, we see the story of Hiroshima’s death and rebirth. We see the story of the aftermath of the bombing at the end of World War II. We see how the people suffer. We see how the people recovered. And we see how they have, fourteen years later, forgotten everything.
This death and subsequent life of Hiroshima becomes echoed in the story of Elle. She tells of how she fell in love with a German soldier during the war, only to be devastated when he was killed at the conclusion of the war. She felt as though she had died with him. In fact, she threw her body down on his and stayed there as he died. The townspeople considered her to be a traitor. They taunted her, shaved her head, and drove her out of the town square. Appearing to go into madness, and refusing to stop screaming, her parents put her in the basement of their home. Slowly, in the basement of her parents’ house, she recovered.
Her recovery was only possible through a process of forgetting. After having forgotten what her German lover looked like, and what her German lover sounded like, Elle was able to leave her parents’ home and start a new life for herself. She got married. She started an acting career. Her new life, however, never really included love. She held onto all of her love for him, her missing German lover. She would not see love again. That is, until now. A parallel is drawn again in how Elle had pursued an impossible life and love with her German soldier, and now finds an impossible love with her Japanese lover.
She ultimately moves on with life and is able to completely forget her German soldier by acknowledging the futility of her relationship with her married Japanese lover. During the agony of having to decide whether or not to remain in Hiroshima, Elle talks to her German lover. She apologizes to him for betraying him. It is as though she has cheated on him. She never did this before with the other men she has had sex with, but this time it is different. He is different. He has become a replacement for the German soldier. So much so that she talked to him as though he WAS the German soldier.
That is how he got the story out of her in the first place, through manipulation. In the very beginning of the film, the ash falling on the two embracing naked bodies symbolizes the death of a city. The ash dissolves into the sweat and passion of two young lovers symbolizes the rebirth brought about only through forgetfulness. Elle states that it is equally important to remember as it is to forget. Yet, it is also important to remember what you are forgetting. Resnais is well known for his tracking shots, and they are plentiful in Hiroshima mon Amour.
We often see Hiroshima through what appears to be Elle’s eyes. This includes quickly riding down the city streets, looking at all the shops. It includes walking through the hospital, while the patients avert their faces to her/us. It includes strolling through the museum that depicts the horrors of the bombings. We are even treated to Hiroshima by night as Elle wanders the streets in contemplation of her life and her decision regarding whether or not she will stay in Hiroshima. In Elle’s memories of Nevers, France, we see more static shots. Most of the point of view shots in France are third person.
It is as though Elle is seeing herself from a distance. We see Elle joining her German lover in a rendezvous. We see her finding him near death on the banks of the river Loire. We see her lying over his dead body. We see her getting her head shaved. We see her staring down a cat in the basement of her parents’ home. We see her in her madness in her room. We see her riding her bike in the night to Paris. All of these are from a bit of a distance. It is a stark contrast from the vision of “modern-day” Hiroshima we get directly through her eyes.
We are given a distance from Elle’s hellish past, and are intimately connected to Elle’s present nightmare. Another structuralistic effect we see in Hiroshima mon Amour is the use of the Kuleshov Effect. The Kuleshov Effect is a cinematic montage effect demonstrated by Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov around 1918. By showing an audience the same picture of a face repeatedly, without altering it at all, and changing the pictures of various objects in between, the audience perceived the face to be expressing a myriad of emotions. In reality, the face did not change from each showing.
This shows that audiences will read whatever emotion they deem appropriate for the circumstances given them. Since that time, directors have used skillful editing to manipulate audience perceptions of actors’ emotions. It should be noted here that Resnais was a well-known editor and had never filmed any feature length films prior to Hiroshima mon Amour. He would have been acutely aware of the Kuleshov Effect and the technique for producing the desired effects in audiences. A close examination of the scenes of Elle in her parents’ basement show that she does not actually express much emotion at all.
Yet, all of the reviews of the film over the last 47 years discuss the different emotions Emmanuelle Riva was portraying during the scenes. On the DVD, released in 2003, Riva herself was interviewed and stated that the girl was mad. In the production notes, Duras states that she should be having a staring contest with the cat. It is all left up to the imagination of the viewer. Therein lies the beauty of the Kuleshov Effect. The combination of the film, not the raw footage, makes the lasting impression on the viewer’s mind. The editing is key.