HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, 1959
Cast: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas Pierre Barbaud, Bernard Fresson
A decade after the Hiroshima bombing, a French actress travels to the historic region to make a film about peace. While there, she meets a Japanese man where they have a passionate one night affair. As the night progresses, the woman remembers her first love and begins to reveal her haunting past. Fascinated with her past, the Japanese man begins to fall in love with her. As the two continue to discuss previous personal and life altering events, an array of uncertainty creates apprehension and unease. Coming from two totally different and tragic backgrounds, can this couple ever understand each other?
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During the rise of a new generation of filmmakers, the French developed artistic and well-respected styles of expressionism. Beginning with a group of men who wrote for the Paris film journal, Cahiers du Cinema, the French New Wave marked the starting point for recognizing and identifying specific artistry in the American cinema. As a result of their critical approach, this group met skepticism and disapproval. Regardless, American students began to study film in college and immerse themselves in cinematic processes. At the same time, French artists were dabbling and experimenting with new cinematic techniques, such as those presented in Hiroshima mon Amour. The film reflects the expressionistic style early by utilizing the voice over of a woman talking about what she knows about Hiroshima. This appears to represent a documentary feature including commentary while showing graphic and tragic occurrences of the Hiroshima bombing.
The film discusses how one struggles to understand personal pain on different scales. The Japanese man has lost everything following the bombing occurrence and is unable to overcome the pain of his losses. In many ways his behavior is essentially a defense mechanism as a result of his denial to recognize and accept the horrors of his life. The French woman suffers her own pain by revealing her past secrets to this absolute stranger she happens to encounter. It is difficult to distinguish between what she feels as she relives her past through her memories. Through sophisticated filmmaking, we see many details relating to memory and its impact on a person’s thought process and the manner by which our futures are determined. The French woman tells the man that she had a horrible experience where she came from and she went crazy. Initially, the man is very much interested in the experience. Eventually, when she starts to tell him about these issues (through film flashbacks), she begins to refer to him in the second person, as if he is a part of it. This shows the relationship of memory to who we are, and that we cannot necessarily forget our memories without changing our future. In some ways, the Japanese man reminds her of the German soldier, her first love who died during the war. The French woman may even want this new man to share her loss and grief and possibly accept a role in her life. The woman is confused from the pain of her loss and seemingly wanting a change from her former life, but she cannot forget her tragedy and separate reality from illusion.
The significance of the ending, when the man and woman refer to each other by where they live indicates that they do not have the capability of understanding each other’s problems. Their grief is overwhelming and powerful and serves to distance them from each other. In the scene when she recalls her past experiences in Nevers, she tells him about how she went through great pain and agony. The Japanese man is excited with these revelations and disclosures about her, but the reality is, he is unable to understand and relate to the experience. He is frozen by his guilt which is associated with the losses he experienced with the Hiroshima bombing and now this denial creates a barrier to his understanding and acceptance. At one point during the film, the French woman tells him that she is making a film about peace in Hiroshima and the Japanese man says, “In Hiroshima, we don’t joke about a film on peace.” He doesn’t accept his own life and the implications of his grief and now assumes the role of a survivor thinking that none of this can affect his life.
One of the main reasons why the woman tells this man her tragic experiences is because she knows about his tragedy and finds it appealing to have a shared experience. However, she discovers that Hiroshima got over the tragedy when the man tells her that, “nothing ever stops in Hiroshima.” We see that the woman originally wanted to move away from her past experience but her memory is an obstacle she cannot overcome. She feels that she is betraying her first love by falling in love with this new man who she barely knows. In a somewhat surreal scene, when it is difficult to indicate whether the man is really there or she is only fantasizing about him, he tells her that it is impossible to leave her and she says that he will kiss her and she will be lost. This suggests that she cannot move away from past experiences because she realizes these experiences might really define who she is.
The mixture of different styles helps the film depict an artistic style about memory and identity, particularly from the documentary footage in the beginning of the film. Additionally, the film confirms the French New Wave contention that the medium itself is not a direct experience and that a statement can be conveyed with very sophisticated and sublime cinematic techniques. In the final analysis, the ending of the film is intentionally ambiguous and probably suggests a new starting point.