New on Video: Moody Post-Atomic Meditations in Hiroshima Mon Amour

The Criterion Collection calls Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour “a cornerstone of the French New Wave.” And while it's definitely that (and of a very different New Wave than that in Philippe Mora's Howling II, for the record), I would argue that it's also the archetype of the Arty Foreign Film in the American consciousness, even if most people wouldn't be able to identify it as such. When asked to name an Arty Foreign Film, most people of a certain age would cite Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal — which is less somber, and more flat-out fun than its reputation suggests — but I'd argue that Hiroshima Mon Amour, released on Blu-Ray this week by the Criterion Collection, has more of the texture that we associate with Foreign Artiness.


The story of an affair between a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) while the former is in the still-rebuilding Hiroshima to shoot a film “about peace,” Hiroshima Mon Amour is a film about the nature of memory and trauma, and how the past and present intermingle. (They're on very different wavelengths and scales, but watching it again reminded me of Jason Banker and Amy Everson's recent Felt.)

The first 15 minutes of Hiroshima Mon Amour have a kind of documentary tone, particularly with Riva's voiceover against a stream of images from inside and and outside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and it just nails that whole “Arty Foreign Film” archetype I was describing before. This is not a bad thing at all, and indeed, it's mesmerizing if you'll let it be. Personally, I could watch the sculpture of an atom composed a mirror ball surrounded by neon lights all day. As near as I can tell, it doesn't exist in real life anymore, but you can see it in action in the above trailer at approximately 1:09.

If someone makes an animated gif of it, I'll love you forever.

This disc is an updating of Criterion's DVD from over a decade ago, and the shiny print is the same as the 4K restoration that played in town in late 2014. It practically goes without saying that the film has never looked this good before, and as my colleague Jonathan Kiefer said in his review last October, Hiroshima Mon Amour “still feels fresh more than half a century after being made.”

I couldn't agree more, though I'd also add that it's also very much of its time — the film stock, the architecture, and even the lovely Ms. Riva's simple hairstyle all speak to the late 1950s — and simultaneously timeless. That it can exist in these seemingly contradictory states and still hold its form so perfectly is appropriate for a film so heavily informed by the impact of the atom.

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