“It’s funny. We’ve spent three or four hours together, and this whole time, planes carrying atomic bombs in their holds have been endlessly circling the Earth. These bombardiers are flying over our planet—and our conversation—ready to drop more atomic bombs, and meanwhile, we haven’t altered our behaviour to any great extent. Here we are drinking tea or having a beer, and our days roll on like any other day. So maybe the movie that needs to be made is not the one we had in mind, with the atomic bomb as the protagonist. On the contrary, maybe we should shoot a classic love story in which the atomic bomb would be more of a background, a backdrop behind the characters, in the distance, like a landscape” – director Alain Resnais in conversation with screenwriter Marguerite Duras in anticipation of the filming of Hiroshima Mon Amour
Warning, this film contains actual footage of the aftermath of the atomic bomb detonation in Hiroshima, which may be difficult for some viewers.
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) has been lauded by many as “one of the most influential films of all time,” which makes the fact that it was originally intended as a documentary all the more intriguing. According to the film’s director, Alain Resnais, he was approached by Argos Films to make a documentary about the atomic bomb, which was to be a co-production between France and Japan. Faced with the problem of how to depict so horrific an event to an audience, Resnais decided to follow an entirely different direction. In an interview, Resnais explained “I came to see that all you could do was suggest the horror—that if you tried to somehow show something very real on the screen, the horror disappeared, so I had to use every means possible to set the viewer’s imagination in motion.”
The film, shot with stunning black and white cinematography, takes place over the course of two days, in which a French actress who is filming a movie in Hiroshima makes the acquaintance of a local Japanese architect. In essence, the film is a sequence of visceral conversations between the two lovers who embrace, sometimes reluctantly, the ephemeral reality of their time together. Their nonlinear conversations guide the storyline through poignant memories of the war, past lovers, immense grief, and the intense beauty of their present, yet inevitably fleeting, intimacy.
Ultimately, what makes Hiroshima Mon Amour so remarkable is its definitive use of juxtaposition: it is at once a classical romance and a heartbreaking memoir; it takes place in a city that was once utterly destroyed, yet somehow now “tailor-made for love,” according to its protagonist; and, above all, it harmoniously weaves together scenes of love and intimacy with ones of grief, despair, and destruction. And it is these interwoven scenes that call to mind the striking similarities between lovers and the cities they inhabit. Lovers, like cities, transform and wither, flourish and endure.
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