MURIEL (Alain Resnais) Rating: NNNN
Nobody constructs puzzles like Alain Resnais, the great French master who, at 85, is still making films but whose creative high point came in the late 1950s and early 60s, when his Modernist classics like Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year At Marienbad revolutionized the art house scene and changed the way people looked at film.
Muriel (1963), made two years after Marienbad, stars its coolly poised lead, Delphine Syrig, as Hélène, a middle-aged antiques dealer who’s living with her step-son Bernard (Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée) in the seaside town of Boulogne.
When Hélène’s former lover Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Kérien) arrives in town, she’s unnerved by memories of their aborted relationship, just as Bernard is haunted by his brutal memories of the Algerian war, from which he’s just returned.
Boulogne’s mix of crumbling old buildings and shiny new architecture (it was heavily damaged during the Second World War) provides a terrific backdrop for a fractured tale about the past intermingling uncomfortably with the present. Hans Werner Henze’s score, meanwhile, lends a feeling of unease to scenes, particularly when soprano Rita Streich attacks her notes like a demented fury.
Even today, Resnais’s techniques feel fresh and bold. Night scenes are intercut with daylight ones. Characters begin talking in one place, then continue in another, and dialogue often overlaps with images that have nothing to do with what’s being said. There are something like 1,000 shots in all, a staggering number for a feature. The acting, stylized but never campy, enhances the dreamlike feel.
Cinematheque screens the North American premiere of a newly struck print of the film that, because of its complexity and sheer technical bravado, cries out for repeated viewings.