The late Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni wanted to do something very new with cinema:to use pictures to make people think about the nature of thought. And to reconnect them with the reality of life
«I am using an apparatus which is constructed to take advantage of a certain human weakness, an apparatus with which I can sway the emotions of my audience – make them laugh, scream with fright, smile, believe in fairy stories, be outraged, be shocked, be charmed, be transported – or bored. So either I am an imposter or – if the audience willingly suspends disbelief – a conjurer.»
The late Ingmar Bergman wrote that in 1957, about his film of that year, Wild Strawberries. A film, for Bergman, began with something vague, often a hazy event that evoked a mood, a fertile mental state. He explained that he wanted to make films “about the conditions, tensions, pictures, rhythms and characters” he found significant. As the son of a clergyman, Bergman became captivated by religious issues: “They go on every hour of every day, although not on a sentimental, emotional level but on an intellectual one.”
The American critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote that “if the French New Wave addressed a new contemporary world, Bergman’s talent was mainly devoted to preserving and perpetuating an old one.” Yet Wild Strawberries, along with Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (The Adventure, 1960), Federico Fellini’s 8 1 / 2 (1963) and Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961), are all outstanding examples of the modern European film of the 1950s and 1960s. Their basis was post-war Italian neo-realism in the cinema, which was an expression of the many illusions destroyed by the second world war; they also alluded further back to the European avant- garde between 1910 and 1920; they revolutionised the language of film and had new ways to look at the world.
Antionioni in The Eclipse (1962) dealt in tense border situations and dehumanised landscapes. He created vacuums and landscapes in which the characters and action are transformed into an abstract interior; the displacement of the bodies is more important than any sequence of events. He highlights the banal everyday vacuum. He went to great lengths to show bodily fatigue, longing, waiting, despair. The characters’ inner selves were illustrated through physical behaviour. He showed what came after the experiences, when everything that could be said has been said, although did not regret the world’s communication problems. He saw that the world was full of all possible colours but people remained colourless; the world still awaits “its inhabitants who are lost in neurosis”. The work of the auteurs (1) was about thought, about reflection. As the philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote in What Is Called Thinking?, “Man can think in the sense that he possesses the possibility to do so. This possibility is no guarantee that we are capable of thinking.”
The most significant and radical of those films was Last Year at Marienbad, the work of director Alain Resnais and scriptwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet, which created new and active audience participation. Instead of being based on cinema’s traditional action and linear stories, it was based on montages of “time images” (a term coined by the philosopher Gilles Deleuze), on time itself. With society in flux and the advent of the media world, it became hard to distinguish the real from the imaginary. Resnais and Robbe-Grillet were not alone in wanting to “expand the system of flashbacks and hypotheses into a generalisation of the mental image” (2).
Marienbad opens with a series of takes of the baroque interior decor of a former castle, now a luxury hotel. A man’s voice is intermittently heard when not drowned out by organ music. After a time, we see people around the lounge. The main characters are Man X, Woman A (and her husband, Man M). X is trying to tell A what happened last year at a similar place. Fragments of conversations and the games of tuxedo-clad men blend in. The film alternates between flashbacks of X’s memories (or are they A’s?), of a rendezvous. But X’s memory becomes hazy when he reaches the climactic event of their previous meeting – was it a rape, a sexual encounter or a murder?
Marienbad, like David Lynch’s new film Inland Empire, is a series of confusing and complicating scenes and tableaux, almost impossible to interpret. Image and sound conflict; flashback is real and unreal. Many films are related to Marienbad. It is connected to L’Avventura, which also has characters searching in all directions, and an uncertain story. The game in the lounge is like Bergman’s chess game between the knight and death in The Seventh Seal (1957). Resnais and Robbe-Grillet themselves were probably inspired by the enigmatic qualities of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959), and Stanley Kubrick in turn was inspired by Resnais and Robbe-Grillet for his real/unreal hotel in The Shining (1980).
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