Resnais’s fourth feature, coming out the same year as Rivette’s The Nun. Watched this once before and have practically no memory of it, so this time I read the screenplay then watched again. By doing so, and by watching it alongside the other Resnais films I’ve seen this year, I’m sure I’ll remember and appreciate it more than I did before, but it also makes me wonder about the nature of Resnais’s art, because he has filmed Spanish writer Jorge Semprún’s screenplay word for word and shot for shot. Semprún describes flashback cuts and actors’ facial expressions, and there it is on the screen. The film isn’t as poetic and dreamy as Resnais’ other films of this period, but it definitely fits in with them, has a similar feel, plays like the work of the same artist. The book felt more tense, and the movie felt more melancholy, like a somewhat lighter Army of Shadows.
Story takes place across just a couple of days (not counting flashes-backs-and-forward) in Paris suburbs, two weeks before a planned protest and strike in Spain. Diego aka Carlos aka Domingo aka The Passenger (Yves Montand, halfway between his starring roles in Let’s Make Love and Tout va bien) returns from Spain to warn his underground anti-Franco activist organization (led by chief Jean Dasté) about the recent police crackdown in Madrid which led to the arrest of some operatives including one good friend. Diego wants to warn his other friend Juan away from returning to Spain, but Juan is already on his way to Barcelona. Diego was himself detained at the border, his false passport inspected by Customs official Michel Piccoli, which leads to complications later. Diego lives (on the rare occasions when he is back in France) with lover Ingrid Thulin (a Bergman regular who is wonderful in this movie) but he also half-heartedly messes around with a young Geneviève Bujold, daughter of the man whose passport he borrowed and herself a revolutionary, but with a younger group that practices impatient and violent means of returning Spain to her mythical (never existent) past Marxist glory. Diego and his group (incl. pro smuggler Jean Bouise, who later played Warok in Out 1) resent that Spain has become a symbol of the radical left but without any definite progress, that they’ve lost more and more comrades promoting these strikes and protests which are never as widespread or effective as intended. They continue their struggle, workmanlike but without much hope… a tone more fitting (in France) for the mid 70’s than the mid 60’s. Interesting that this came out right when Resnais’s contemporaries were about to turn to politics, then he followed it up with the much less political Je t’aime, je t’aime.
Writer Semprún later adapted screenplays for Costa-Gavras and wrote Stavisky for Resnais. He must be the only non-English speaker to receive TWO oscar nominations for writing. Shot by his regular guy Sacha Vierny with music by Giovanni Fusco, an Antonioni regular who died of a heart attack in May ’68.
The movie is called “stylistically orthodox” and “one of his most accessible films.” It’s not reportage-style realism, just straight drama, which never feels heightened by technique even though there are some signature smooth tracking shots and the love scene with Bujold is downright expressionist. I found the look and the camerawork to be more Muriel than Je t’aime, but of course the editing is completely unlike either of those.
Time Out: “Perhaps it is the film’s directness and obviously dated aspects (middle-age male angst faced with effervescent feminine adoration having become such a staple ‘art movie’ subject) that have made it seem a minor item in an often challenging director’s career.”
Harvard: “A series of premonitions told in flash-forward near the film’s conclusion make powerful statements about memory and aspiration, commitment and faith.”
A. Agarwal: “The film ends in inevitability. Thulin, the mistress whose devotion sometimes makes Montand uncomfortable yet at peace with himself, learns Montand is going to be sucked into a trap, and she starts out to let him know and save him from crossing into Spain. The film ends here, yet there’s a shadow of death over it. Either Thulin will not be able to save Montand, or she will be able to save him and Montand will quit this life and spend the remaining part of it trying to make peace with himself and his country.”
Thulin & Montand