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Yes, it's easy to smile at Alain Resnais' 1961 film, which inspired so much satire and yet made such a lasting impression. Incredible to think that students actually did stand in the rain to be baffled by it, and then to argue for hours about its meaning--even though the director claimed it had none.
The film takes place in an elegant chateau, one with ornate ceilings, vast drawing rooms, enormous mirrors and paintings, endless corridors and grounds in which shrubbery has been tortured into geometric shapes and patterns. In this chateau are many guests--elegant, expensively dressed, impassive. We are concerned with three of them: “A” (Delphine Seyrig), a beautiful woman. “X” (Giorgio Albertazzi), with movie-idol good looks, who insists they met last year and arranged to meet again this year. And “M” (Sascha Pitoeff), who may be A's husband or lover, but certainly exercises authority over her. He has a striking appearance, with his sunken triangular face, high cheekbones, deep-set eyes and subtle vampirish overbite.
It is possible, I realize, to grow impatient with “Last Year at Marienbad.” To find it affected and insufferable. It doesn't hurtle through its story like today's hits--it's not a narrative pinball machine. It is a deliberate, artificial artistic construction. I watched it with a pleasure so intense I was surprised. I knew to begin with there would be no solution. That the three characters would move forever through their dance of desire and denial, and that their clothing and the elegant architecture of the chateau was as real as the bedroom at the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey”--in other words, simply a setting in which human behavior could be observed.— Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com
Sun December 4, 2022, 2:00 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
France, 1961, in French, Black and White, 94 min, 2.35 : 1, digital