Hiroshima mon amour

by Marguerite Duras

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518

Several years after the nuclear attack on Hiroshima at the end of World War II, Duras presents the story of a French woman and a Japanese man engaged in a twenty-four-hour love affair in Hiroshima, mon amour. Duras was specifically chosen by French New Wave cinema director Alain Resnais to write a screenplay for a story of people affected by war. He had originally been asked to produce a documentary on the nuclear destruction in this city, but he was concerned he would produce another Holocaust piece similar to his film Nuit et brouillard (1955; Night and Fog). In response to his request, Duras worked with him to create a film that won major prizes at the Cannes and New York film festivals.

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In a five-part saga of the couple’s physical and psychological intimacy, Duras creates a poignant story of love and loss with unnamed protagonists set against the reconstruction of Hiroshima in the 1950’s and the horrors of the 1945 attack. She brings added dimensions to the concepts of human interaction and communication by using a flashback technique (amplified by Resnais’s cinematography) to recount the woman’s affair as a teenager with a young German soldier in Vichy France and her subsequent ostracism and mental breakdown. The reality of life in postwar Japan, where cultures continue to clash, is juxtaposed against the romanticism of war-torn lovers, or any couple whose dreams are never destined to be fulfilled.

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The couple meet when the woman comes to Japan to act in a film about peace. This meeting takes place before the story opens, as they are already intimately involved in the opening shots. The camera scans their bodies as the texture of their skin turns from smoothness to an ashlike quality. With this technique, Resnais and Duras set the scene for two personal stories affected by larger issues. Duras draws on her personal experiences and hardships in the French Resistance during World War II and when her husband almost died at Dachau.

The story continues in several venues, including the hotel room, a café, a railroad station, and the memorial park dedicated to those lost in the bombing. In each location the couple comes together either mentally or physically and then is pulled apart by memories, described in a stream-of-consciousness narration through dialogue and visual images. The dialogue is brief and often truncated with flashbacks substituting for verbal description. Eventually the lovers must part and live their lives in separate places. They identify each other only by their respective locations, Hiroshima and Nevers, France.

The screenplay (and film) is more meditative than linear in its storytelling. The settings of a modern Japanese city and a rural town in France serve as symbols for the characters—an architect, who is representative of the new Japan, and an actress, who is still reconstructing her life after her wartime trauma. This story is about the impact of memory on individuals and was one of the first French New Wave films to make innovative use of flashbacks. Duras uses her war experiences in a creative way to convey the far-reaching effects of conflict.

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