Monday, December 16, 2013

Selective Memories

Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour (1963) - Resnais
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The film is set in Boulogne, a port city up north just on the other side of the English Channel. It is rapidly modernizing city with the remnants of WWII destruction still very much lingering. Same is true in the inner lives of Muriel's inhabitants- Helen (Delphine Seyrig), a widow with a selective amnesia who can't let go the memories of a past lover, Alfonse. He shows up at her request accompanied by a young woman claiming to be his niece. Helen's stepson Bernard (Jean-Baptiste Thierrée) also carries a terrible secret from his military days in Algeria.

Even though characters are talking about material things, joking about shady constructions of the new glass and concrete buildings that might 'slide right out to the sea,' and a cruise ship that ran aground at the bay, one can sense that there is a sense of doom over the ugly city. The youngun's wants to get away from it while older folks are stuck in only happy, fantasy oriented memories.

The film is structured like someone's scattered memories. Intentionally drab color palette and ugly 60s buildings are quite contrasty with visual elegance of Last Year at Marienbad, which was made just 2 years earlier (both shot by Sacha Vierny). Muriel is no less impressive at contemplating memories, fantasies and collective scar left in people's psyche in postwar Europe. I actually prefer this to Marienbad.

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