Mar 28, 2022

On Blu-ray: The Early Short Films of Alain Resnais, Director of Hiroshima Mon Amour (1958) and Last Year at Marienband (1961)

While best known for directing features like Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Alain Resnais spent the first two decades of his career making short films. On a new Blu-ray, Icarus Films has released restorations of five of the most celebrated works from those years. 

The most compelling aspect of these films is that it is clear Resnais developed his style early in his career. In the mesmerizing Le chant du Styrène (The Song of Styrene, 1957), he manages to imbue a documentary short about plastics with all the mystery and tension of Marienbad. Not something I would expect to see in an industrial film. 

Toute la mémoire du monde (All the World’s Memory, 1956), a film about the National Library of France, casts a similar spell. With sweeping overhead views and long tracking shots, Resnais’ camera glides through this world of knowledge like a wistful specter. It’s a beautiful record of a grand building and its massive and rapidly growing collection. 

A trio of films dedicated to artists: Paul Gauguin (1949), Van Gogh (1948), and Guernica (about Picasso, 1949) uses effectively presented still images to tell the story of these artist’s most intense moments. Van Gogh won an Academy Award for short subject and an award at the Venice Film Festival, early recognition in a richly-rewarded career. 

While I liked the dramatic effect of the artist trio, I was most fascinated by the other two films, which profoundly demonstrate the artistic possibilities in documentary filmmaking. They’re a delightful prelude to the long career of a unique and visionary filmmaker. 

The disc comes with a booklet featuring an interview with Laurence Braunberger, daughter of Pierre Braunberger, who produced the shorts. In addition to providing a good historical background, Laurence shares a little about the process of restoration in which she played a key role. 

Many thanks to Icarus Films for providing a copy of the Blu-ray for review.

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