That is hat a huge pain in chest, that stays with you after the final captions. My personal marker of being touched. After my emotions cooled down I started thinking of the movie in the measures of three act structure, scenes dynamics and blah blah blah… basic rules told in every film school. Nowadays, in the most modern pictures one can easily define the skeleton of the story. In Hiroshima I saw nothing at the first sight. Nothing.
Thats why I decided to look into the story deeper. I’m not going to write a review with comparisons or generalizations. I’m not a movie critic. All I want to discover is why the story works.
Alain Resnais was offered to make a documentary on atomic bomb. It seemed impossible for him in the measures of the documentary storytelling. Here comes Marguerite Duras who writes the story. It was French-Japanese coproduction. It was a demand tha one hero have to bo French and another one Japanese (yes, I’ve read the reviews).
I had certain premises why they choose to tell the story of the huge tragedy in this personal way and I’ve found some proofs in the script. Lets try to structure it:
- Story of the Hiroshima tragedy is merged with the personal pains of the heroes. Thats why it really hurts. In synopsis Duras mentions “Their personal story, however brief it may be, always dominates Hiroshima. If this premise were not adhered to, this would be just one more made-to-order picture, of no more interest than any fictionalized documentary. If it is adhered to, we’ll end up with a sort of false documentary that will probe the lesson of Hiroshima more deeply than any made-to-order documentary.”
2. What’s the story about. “Theirs is a one-night affair. But where? At Hiroshima. Their embrace—so banal, so commonplace—takes place in the one city of the world where it is hardest to imagine it: Hiroshima. Nothing is “given” at Hiroshima. Every gesture, every word, takes on an aura of meaning that transcends its literal meaning. And this is one of the principal goals of the film: to have done with the description of horror by horror, for that has been done by the Japanese themselves, but make this horror rise again from its ashes by incorporating it in a love that will necessarily be special and “wonderful,” one that will be more credible than if it had occurred anywhere else in the world, a place that death had not preserved” – more notes from the synopses
3. Opening scene makes us to perceive personal (love affair) and impersonal (Hiroshima tragedy) integrated in one story. You get somehow that heroes have their intimate tragedy, maybe connected with this place. Look how it is achieved:
4. The story structure. The script is divided into 5 parts. Well, after narrating them I understood the way it moves the story. 1st Love embrace of the bodies mixed with Hiroshima footage (including documentary frames) Love affair + Hiroshima tragedy is melt together
We don’t know who is the story about, but it doesn’t leave any hesitations it goes of a great love:
2nd Heroes get to know each other a bit. He wants to continue the affaire, she refuses. Personal story is revealed. One night affair.
3rd They meet again on the film set during the final scene, the parade of peace and continue at his home. Personal story develops in the decorations of Hiroshima tragedy monuments.
4th Her confession at the cafe. She (Thats not by accident their names are not mentioned through the film) tells Him about her past love story in Nevers. Her lover, a german soldier was killed in the last day of the war. And she was punished for the affair with the enemy. He speaks with her from the person of the dead soldier. Personal story. That explains her fear, her pain, her refusal of love. Defeated she rises from ashes. Not hard to follow the parallel with the burnt city.
5th part Long farewell. Hard to say whether all times they meet are real or happens in her imagination. Love affaire painful to remember, impossible to forget.
5. Flashbacks deserve special attention here, as Resnais pioneered pioneered the use of flashbacks to mimic flashes of memories.
6. Lets read the dialogue from the last scene:
Hi-ro-shi-ma. That’s your name.
(They look at each other without seeing each other. Forever.)
HE: That’s my name. Yes. Your name is Nevers. Ne-vers-in France.
And see what Marguerite Duras writes in the synopsis: “For in fact, in each other’s eyes, they are no one. They are names of places, names that are not names. It is as though, through them, all of Hiroshima was in love with all of Nevers.”
Love story dissolves leaving feeling of a huge tragedy. Pain of Nevers, catastrophe of Hiroshima.
P.S. I don’t claim to be a critic. My aim was to get what makes the story work, as I’m sure it does.