The very definition of art cinema, Alain Resnais’ 1960 Last Year at Marienbad defies audience identification, narrative clarity, even any assurance that anything we see is "real" in any sense. Characters without names, played by actors who barely change expression, walk through the lavish but coldly alienating vacation castles reserved for the rich and aristocratic, lost in time and space. One elegantly poised man (Italian actor Giorgio Albertazzi), identified as "X" in the credits," tries to convince a beautiful but impassive woman, "A" (Delphine Seyrig, in a hairstyle as coolly sculpted as the film itself), that they met last year and had an affair and made plans to run away together. She tells him, with a preternaturally restrained sense of calm, that they have never met. It could be a ghost story (the church organ score is appropriately eerie and ominous) in a European castle, the foreign equivalent of the Overlook Hotel. Or it could be film of memory, or perhaps dreams of a wished-for past, filled with flashbacks/memories/stories, but which are themselves full of elisions and gaps and even, at times, contradictory. It’s strange and surreal, full of odd humor and games, the most elaborate of which is the very tale that centers the narrative. Did something happen last year at Marienbad (Friedriksbaad or whatever lavish castle vacation spot was in fashion that year)? Or is it simply an elaborate tale, a seductive promise cutting through the stifling existence of social decorum?
Criterion’s new edition comes out on both DVD and Blu-ray in a superb transfer from a rich fine-grain master print that has been digitally cleaned and fine-tuned, supervised and approved by Alain Resnais. At the director’s insistence, Criterion includes the original, unrestored soundtrack along with the remastered, cleaned-up version. "By correcting so-called flaws, one can lost the style of a film altogether," he writes in the liner notes. Like The Seventh Seal released last week by Criterion, the Blu-ray edition is the a sight to behold and the closest I have come to seeing a beautifully preserved film play on my screen. The image felt alive, like perfectly restored celluloid projected from a well-tempered projector, and pulled me through the image. The DVD also features original half-hour documentary Unraveling the Enigma: The Making of Marienbad, a new, generous 33-minute audio-only interview with Alain Resnais and two early the short documentaries by Resnais: Toute la memoire du Monde and Le Chant du Styrene.
"I lost my memory. I can’t remember anything about the Lebanon war. Just one image." Waltz With Bashir is both art and autobiography from Ari Folman, a filmmaker with a deep interest in psychoanalysis. The memory gap was real ("It’s not stored in my system," he explains) and attempted to reconstruct those missing memories with the help of friends and fellow soldiers. Those conversations on his odyssey back in time and memory (a couple of them reconstructed with actors for the film, the rest recorded with the actual subjects) are the foundation of the script. "The memory is dynamic," explains psychiatrist Ori Sivan. So is Folman’s film, which uses animation not just to illustrate but explore the subjective quality of their remembrances, a mix of mind’s eye first-person observation, dream, fantasy and the exaggeration of emotional memory. Executed in bold lines and slow but fluid movements, it’s never sensationalistic but always striking vivid and immediate. What begins as an introspective odyssey into the effects of war on the young Israeli soldiers turns into a provocative expose on the Sabra and Shatila massacres, events that sent shock waves through the Israeli men who were made inadvertent collaborators. But the final word is not their emotional trauma, but the stark reality of the event itself. The film was nominated for "Best Foreign Language Film" at the 2009 Academy Awards (its absence in the “Best Animated Feature” nominations caused a minor outbreak of outrage). Ari Folman provides commentary (he introduces himself as "writer, producer, director and main protagonist of the film") and a press conference Q&A (in English) and participates in a 12-minute featurette (in Hebrew with English subtitles). Also available on Blu-ray.