Alain Resnais Penelope Houston - Essay

Penelope Houston

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[L'Année Dernière à Marienbad] is a study in persuasion, and one which involves the audience as much as the people on the screen; and it is a work in which the technique and the action are quite literally fused. If it were not told in this particular way, the film would not exist….

[All] it can declare is itself—or, rather, the invitation to experience it contains.

L'Année Dernière opens, like Hiroshima mon Amour, with a sustained and elaborate introductory passage; in Hiroshima Resnais called it the 'opera'—here it is certainly not less than the overture. The music behind the credits fades, and before the last names come up on the screen a voice is heard, impersonal, grave, and at first very quiet. The voice becomes clearer as the first images appear: the long corridors of a big hotel, empty of people but suggesting a weight of habitation in their rich, arrogant decoration. Incantatory, the voice continues: "Once again I walk, once again, along these corridors, across these salons, these galleries, in this edifice from another century, this huge, luxurious, baroque hotel …" Organ music drowns the voice, then it returns, then the music rises over it again. The camera tracks slowly, inevitably, hovers over a theatre poster, a print of a formal garden, a row of numbered doors, moves down corridors, across baroque ceilings, gives such crystalline clarity to a section of moulding that it looks like a glistening bunch of fruit waiting to be picked. Then people: an audience for a play, gathered in a great salon, motionless and abstracted as they sit on their little gilt chairs and watch the stage. The voice of the actor on the stage takes over, as it were, from the narrator, "Voilà maintenant," says the actress, "Je suis à vous." Curtain.

The opening is entirely hypnotic. Like the beginning of a fairy tale, it draws us into an alien world, gives us no chance to get our bearings, hints at clues which may or may not turn out to have meaning. (p. 26)

The stranger's strength is in the sheer pressure of will: he wants it to be so; it will be so; it is so. Did they know each other, were they in...

(The entire section is 912 words.)