Directed by: Alain Resnais
Written by: Marguerite Duras
Starring: Eiji Okada, Emmanuelle Riva, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud
World wars start with “world,” because of the global impact they have and how it shapes the lives that lived before and after the bloodshed and pain. Coming from different nations and continents, Hiroshima Mon Amour provides the opportunity for reflection as two strangers learn more about each other than they expected.
With two characters given no name outside of their pronouns, a French female actor (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese man (Eiji Okada) spend the night together. Their continued connection revolve around conversations of the bomb that dropped in Hiroshima and the impacts of World War II on both of them.
Opening in the way Hiroshima Mon Amour does surely raises some eyebrows on the experience the story will provide. It appears to be a documentary detailing the pain and suffering of the folks of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb landed from the United States. It shows not only the immediate results but also the generational impact in the form of physical deformities and people losing their hair. This footage gets undercut by a man and a woman in an embrace speaking of Hiroshima, with the man constantly telling the woman that she knows nothing of the city. It continues for far longer than I anticipated, to the point where I felt like this would be the entire film. The footage then breaks, we cut to the lovers, and the rest follows their discussions about what it means to forget and the difficulty of hiding pain.
Not giving these characters names allowed them to be more symbolic rather than possessing complete human tangibility. While these characters have jobs, relationships, and pasts, at times it feels like they are a placeholder for a larger discussion going on. A sentiment that becomes even more evident as we get to the conclusion of the feature. Their connection begins with a sexual experience. A night simply meant for fun seeing as the actor will be leaving Hiroshima the next day, as she wraps up her part in a film. The man feels that they have a connection and wants to continue to see her and savor the time they have before she departs. This propels the plot to their conversations and the content revealed speaks aplenty about these two people and what they may represent.
It became difficult to decipher everything in the film, but it dawned on me that I just needed to sit back and take in the experience being presented. The stories the actor goes on details a life full of momentary love followed by unrelenting pain. A past that she wished would leave her if not for the fact that it defines her and where her life has led her. The man feels more anonymous in that regard as we learn minimal information about him. We don’t even get to know his profession, but we learn that his wife will be coming home soon. The narrative wraps around this pain and the mounting trust that can be placed on a stranger.
I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations they held about the world and the description of pain felt from the infamous bomb. Neither of them were present in Hiroshima when it occurred but the reverberations of that weapon could be felt around the globe. Whether it simply be on the news somewhere or knowing the impact it had on family. This film’s premiere angered many because it viewed the actions by the United States in dropping that bomb to be evil in causing all of that pain and suffering. The film did not give an American perspective through all of it, which allows for a larger discussion outside of wartime tactics. It’s not about politics or ending the war, it’s about the people. Even with the anonymity, the film still feels incredibly human in the stories the actor shares about her experience. A love and a pain that continually haunts her through her days even if it occurred more than a decade ago.
Falling right in the French New Wave, Hiroshima Mon Amour refuses to be incredibly direct with its storytelling but its message remains sharp. It allows us to see the aftermath of that horrid event on a Japanese man and a French woman, as they battle their pasts and refuse to look ahead to a distant future. A future that feels unsure and unsafe, because of the actions brought upon during a time of violence and destruction. It allows for some incredible acting performances by the lead duo and provides for a moment of reflection and dredging up things we have fought so hard to forget.