When viewing Marienbad, the question one can't help but ask is: "what is going on?"
Theories abound. The interpretations are interesting. But I'm concerned with HOW people are interpreting.
Director: Alain Resnais
Writer: Alain Robbe-Grillet
The Girl (A): Delphine Seyrig
The Guy Talking to the Girl (X): Giorgio Albertazzi
The Guy Who is Watching The Guy Talking to the Girl talk to The Girl (M): Sacha Pitoeff
We'll see five ways which one can interpret art*. Ready?
1. Through its own medium.
" X tells A this
Robbe-Grillet (one of the top names of the French 'Nouveau Roman' movement along with Nathalie Sarraute, Marguerite Duras, Michel Butor, etc), was a former agronomist/mathematician (and his writing shows it) who became a writer/filmmaker with a very personal, geometrical, unemotional, descriptive style. The novella "La Jalousie", like most Nouveau Roman books, is essentially cinematic in their approach of characters and plot, functioning like a film camera, a non-opinionated unobtrusive observer, but insightfully revealing in its 'detachment'.
His novella 'La Jalousie; is a fascinating, maze-like circular construction, in which beginning and end mingle many times over, each time from a different perspective, just like observing a house or a sculpture from different angles one at a time -- which means each angle is only partially accurate, revealing but a portion of the truth, while hiding another. The 'observer/narrator' in the book (the husband, but written in the third person - 'he') tries to locate in PLACE and TIME the precise moment in which the feeling of jealousy arises in him as he tries to find the extent of his wife's relationship with another man (a.k.a. the threesome in the film). Did an affair really happen? Is it yet going to happen? Or is it his imagination, his suspicion, just his jealous feeling? (btw, this is the same theme as Proust's incomparable masterpiece 'La Prisonnière', treated in antipodal, totally psychological, but equally obsessive style).
As in most 'Nouveau Roman' novels, the notion of TIME in 'La Jalousie' (and also in 'Marienbad') is transformed and deformed; the approach of the characters is non-psychological, meaning that thoughts and outbursts of emotion are not dealt with, only the description of places, words, gestures and actions. Everything (even a very strong feeling like the birth of jealousy) is apprehended only through the observation of external facts: small gestures, the position of a chair or a table, a glass found full or empty, an unexpected sound, the way the woman combs her hair or looks at herself in the mirror, a suddenly unusual way of getting up or sitting down which leads to the husband's perception that something has suddenly, dangerously, definitely changed."
But if you understand the aesthetics behind the art, you have a foundation through which to comprehend.
5. Intertextuality and Hyptertextuality
From Senses of Cinema, issue 10, article title: "Last Year at Marienbad: An Intertextual Meditation", author: Thomas Beltzer:
"Though Marienbad is substantially different from Morel, knowing about the relationship between the two enriches Marienbad‘s meditation on the relationship between art and nature. Without Morel, Marienbad is mostly an exercise in formalism; however, with the intertextual juxtaposition of the two, it becomes another, different work. It becomes an early false reality film, perhaps the first. Beginning as a mere trickle with The Purple Rose of Cairo and The Last Action Hero, we now have a flood of these ontological vertigo films – Total Recall, Dark City, The Matrix, Existenz, The Thirteenth Floor, The Truman Show and the on-going holo-deck of the various neo-Star Treks just to name a few. In our digital times where CGI billboards pop up in Times Square, false reality and false people have become a global obsession (4).
So why do Robbe-Grillet and Resnais hide the fact that Marienbad is a divergent film version of Morel? Is it because they are Eurocentrics who think art should have nothing to do with the genre of science fiction/horror even though, admittedly, Morel is certainly more literary than an example of genre fiction? Mostly though, Marienbad, by keeping itself textually pure, remains a shrine to modernism. As a last dying gasp of modernism, it is in desperate denial regarding its true intertextual nature.
Without The Invention of Morel, Marienbad is merely surreal art for art’s sake. However the film does provide clues that 'A', 'M' and 'X' are simulacrum and not real people. The play at the beginning of the film slavishly foretells the fates of the protagonists, and 'X'‘s endless monologue is spoken by both the play actor and 'X', their voices intentionally blended. All of the paintings in the hotel are mimetic of the resort itself. As they discuss the sculptures in the garden, we suspect that 'X' and 'A' are sculptures themselves. Then there are the many time dysfunctions – sudden changes in chronology signaled only by the placement of characters and their costume changes. The effect of all these changes is mostly irrelevant because nothing ever really changes at the resort. The essential nature and meaning of the film is utterly dependent on its hidden relationship with Morel, so its formalistic elitism is false. Nevertheless, and this is the beautiful irony of intertextuality, once its indebtedness is acknowledged, Marienbad can go on to have an independent artistic life of its own. It, after all, has very little in common with Morel."
Did I Like It:
Yes. I found it strange and it drew me in. There were some points where I yawned, where I got a little disengaged. Buuut. Awesome shots. I wanted to watch it again right away.
What It's Good For:
-something to gnaw on
-opaque as a brick wall
% Character / % Actor's personality or previous roles