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“I think that in a few years, in ten, in twenty, or thirty years, we shall know whether Hiroshima mon amour was the most important film since the war, the first modern film of sound cinema.” That was Eric Rohmer, in a July 1959 roundtable discussion between the members of Cahiers du cinéma’s editorial staff, devoted to Alain Resnais’s groundbreaking first feature, which had just come out. Rohmer’s remark is in perfect sync with the spirit of the film, which, as he says later in the discussion, “has a very strong sense of the future, particularly the anguish of the future.” Read half a century later, “anguish of the future” describes the peculiar sensation that runs through all of Resnais’s films, before and after Hiroshima. In fact, it’s the anguish of past, present, and future: the need to understand exactly who and where we are in time, a need that goes perpetually unsatisfied.
Whether it’s the most important film since the war is another question altogether, and an oddly poignant one. Because looking for a “most important film since the war” may strike many of us today, in our spectacle-saturated world of capitalism unbound, as a quaint enterprise. Those among us who recognize “the war” as a historical benchmark, without a reminder from Hollywood or the Discovery Channel, are dwindling. In 1959, just fourteen years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Rohmer and his estimable cohorts (including Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette) probably had something quite specific in mind with their quest to find a genuinely modern postwar cinema, one that would respond to the moral imperative of the moment (exemplified by Theodor Adorno’s famous banishment of lyricism after the Holocaust) and then somehow define that moment for all time. A tall order. The fact that Resnais’s unflinching film comes within hailing distance of accomplishing such an impossible task is a tribute to its greatness.— Kent Jones, Criterion
Mon February 19, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
90min, France, 1959, in French w/English subtitles, R, Black and White