Last Year at Marienbad

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Last Year at Marienbad
Directed by Alain Resnais
Produced by Pierre Courau
Raymond Froment
Written by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Starring Delphine Seyrig
Giorgio Albertazzi
Sacha Pitoëff
Music by Francis Seyrig
Cinematography Sacha Vierny
Editing by Jasmine Chasney
Henri Colpi
Release date(s) Flag of France June 25, 1961
Flag of the United States March 7, 1962
Running time 94 min
Language French

L'Année dernière à Marienbad (translated as Last Year in Marienbad in the UK and Last Year at Marienbad in North America) is a 1961 French movie directed by Alain Resnais, starring Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoëff. The screenplay is by Alain Robbe-Grillet.[1]


[edit] Plot

The film is set at an elite social gathering at a chateau. A man approaches a woman and asks "Didn't we meet at Marienbad last year?" The woman is non-committal and demure. "Didn't you say you would leave your husband and we would run away together?" he asks. Again, she says "No," but they continue to talk as if they perhaps had indeed made plans. When a second man, who may be A's husband, approaches, the conversation ends somewhat awkwardly and the characters move on.

As the film progresses, the relationship of the characters and the sequence of events are not made clear. Instead images and events such as the conversation above are repeated several times, but in different places in the chateau and its grounds. Several sequences involve the men at the chateau passing the time with various games (such as Nim and target shooting). There are numerous tracking shots of the chateau's corridors, with ambiguous voiceovers.

[edit] Production and style

The film is famous for its enigmatic narrative structure, in which truth and fiction are difficult to distinguish, and the exact temporal and spatial relationship of the events is open to question. The dream-like nature of the film has fascinated and baffled audiences and critics, some hailing it as a masterpiece, others finding it incomprehensible. Among the notable images in the film is a scene in which two characters (and the camera) rush out of the chateau and are faced with a tableau of figures arranged in a geometric garden; although the people cast long dramatic shadows, the trees in the garden do not.

Still from L'année dernière à Marienbad. In this surreal image, the couples cast long shadows but the trees do not.

Marienbad is a town in the Czech Republic (it is not clear whether the film's setting is meant to be Marienbad or somewhere else). Resnais filmed the scenes within several different chateaux and their grounds, including the Nymphenburg Palace and Schleissheim Palace, both in Bavaria. He edited them together to produce a disorientating space that does not make geographical sense. Some additional footage was shot at an indoor studio. The woman's wardrobe was designed by Coco Chanel.[2]

[edit] Reception

The film was nominated for the 1963 Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay (Alain Robbe-Grillet), and it won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Film Festival. In 1963 Adonis Kyrou declared the film a total triumph in his influential Le Surréalisme au Cinéma (p.206), recognizing the ambiguous environment and obscure motives within the film as representing many of the concerns of surrealism in narrative cinema.

Less reverently, the film received an entry in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, by Harry Medved, with Randy Dreyfuss and Michael Medved. The authors lampooned the film's surrealistic style and quoted numerous critics who found the film to be pretentious and/or incomprehensible.

[edit] Influence

Last Year at Marienbad forms a thematic basis for Marienbad My Love, a novel about a cinematographer who commits himself to creating a science-fiction-themed tribute to the film. The book, by Mark Leach, incorporates prose that reflects some of the narration and dialogue of the film.[3]

[edit] References

  1. ^ According to Thomas Beltzer, in Last Year at Marienbad: An Intertextual Meditation (, the film script may have been based in part on "The Invention of Morel," a science fiction novel published in 1940 by the Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares. The "Invention of Morel" is about a fugitive, hiding out alone on a deserted island who one day awakens to discover that the island is miraculously filled with anachronistically dressed people who, according to the text, “dance, stroll up and down, and swim in the pool, as if this were a summer resort like Los Teques or Marienbad." He later learns that they are creations of an inventor, Morel, whose recording machine captured the exact likenesses of a group of friends, which are "played" over and over again.
  2. ^ LA Weekly - Film+TV - Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad returns - J. Hoberman - The Essential Online Resource for Los Angeles
  3. ^ Making a Mess of Marienbad

[edit] Further reading

  • Ado Kyrou, Le Surréalisme au Cinéma (Paris: Le Terrain Vague, 1963)
  • Jean-Louis Leutrat, L'Année dernière à Marienbad (London: British Film Institute, 2000)

[edit] External links

Preceded by
Le Passage du Rhin
Golden Lion winner
Succeeded by
Ivan's Childhood
tied with Family Diary
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