Alain Resnais and Cahiers du Cinema 1951-1968
"For if we have spoken
a little too much
about Alain Resnais’
Toute la mémoire du monde,
it is because we shall talk
a great deal about
Hiroshima mon amour"
Cahiers du Cinema
3 months before Hiroshima mon amour
is first shown at Cannes in May 1959.
For the September-October 2001 issue of Film Comment, Dave Kehr contributed a history of the first 50 years old Cahiers du Cinema. Towards the end of that article, in discussing the changes at Cahiers in 1963 when Jacques Rivette assumed editorship from Eric Rohmer, Kehr speaks of "a sudden admiration for Alain Resnais". Given that up to this point, he had not mentioned Resnais, it is problematic to know exactly what he means. What I intend here is an accounting of the relationship of Cahiers with Alain Resnais from 1951 to 1968.
"Après Robert Bresson, Aurenche et Bost ne sont plus que les Viollet lo duc de l'adaptation cinematographique." ("After Robert Bresson, Aurenche and Bost are no more than the Viollet-le-Duc of Cinematic adaptation"). That sentence which is the coda of André Bazin's article "The Stylistics of Robert Bresson" published in issue number 3 of Cahiers du Cinema in June 1951 (page 19) provided the springboard for François Truffaut's "A Certain Tendency of French Cinema".
Two paragraphs up from that finishing remark, Bazin had written this, "Van Gogh by Alain Resnais is a minor masterpiece starting out from a major pictorial work that it uses and explains but does not replace." It would seem that Alain Resnais was après "Robert Bresson" before the après.
Les statues meurent aussi
In the coverage from the Venice Festival, Pierre Michaut wrote, (Cahiers du Cinema, July 1954, page 24, my translation)
This is a brilliant work and on a cinematic plane, a very remarkable success. The choice and presentation of objects, the play of light, the animation of the image, the movement and rhythm of the editing confirm the great mastery of Mr. Resnais, auteur already of Van Gogh and Guernica.
Alain Resnais 10 Best Films
In January 1955, Cahiers du Cinema inaugurated its "10 best films of the year" feature. The feature was preceded by the statement, "The 10 best films of the year: Here they are according to 16 of our friends who have submitted to us their list from films appearing in Paris in 1954." Alain Resnais was one of that charter group 16 "friends". Resnais submitted lists for the years 1954 through 1962 with the exception of 1960.
Alain Resnais and "Une Visite"
In late 1954, François Truffaut directed his first film, the never-released silent short "Une Visite". To make the film, Truffaut borrowed Jacques-Doniol Valcroze's apartment for the price of baby-sitting Doniol-Valcroze's four-year old daughter. Truffaut promptly cast young Florence Doniol-Valcroze in the film, rounding out a cast that also included Laura Mauri who was living with Truffaut at the time, Jean-José Richer, a Cahiers regular contributor, and Francis Cogniny who would later on be an assistant director on films by not only Truffaut, but also, Godard and Chabrol in the early days of the New Wave. Jacques Rivette came up with film and the camera and acted as cinematographer while Robert Lachenay was producer and assistant director. Alain Resnais provided the editing.
Alain Resnais on the Conseil des dix
In November 1955, Cahiers du Cinema first published the conseil des dix (council of ten) feature. Among the first panelists were two non-critics, the producer Pierre Braunberger and Alain Resnais. In that first month Alain Resnais responded on only 5 of the 17 films listed, about half of the next lowest total. In December 1955, Resnais responded on only 2 of the 18 films listed. I would guess that for this reason, that he,not being a critic, had not yet seen enough of the films posted to be an effective panelist, he never again participated as a panelist. In the first two and a half years of the conseil, it was the practice at Cahiers to list, in footnotes below their conseil tableau, recommendations made by various people connected with film of different films. In that time, Alain Resnais was on some ten occasions cited as recommending films as different as Senso, Attack, Rebel without a Cause, Les Survivants de l'infini and Forbidden Planet.
Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog)
In a short entry in Cahiers du Cinema's "Le Petit journal du cinéma" in February 1956, François Truffaut wrote,
If this film is a film, it is The film. And the others are only impressed celluloid. Nuit et brouillard, the noblest and most necessary film ever shot, plunges us into a shameful perplexity and elicits the disorientation of our ideas and our feelings. Nuit et brouillard, it is the deportation and internment as seen and told by Christ... in my opinion. Alain Resnais turns his left cheek and we receive the whacks across our faces, each shot being a well-deserved slap. Some grass, some disused barracks, some barbed-wire, recorded in color by Alain Resnais and shown to the guilty, that means, to the living, to the spectators, in a word, to ourselves, constitute rather than a poem or a an indictment, a sublime dressing, the film of our shame and our indignity.
In that same February 1956 issue of Cahiers, on page 34, Pierre Kast wrote,
Lastly, Night and Fog from Alain Resnais is a kind of andante for two voices on the Nazi camps. Color images, understatedly beautiful, conduct one's regard across the vestiges of Auschwitz, and alternate with a montage of documents, in black and white. One might say a Bach Invention for two voices whose notes for each voice will be printed in a different color. The restraint and nobility of tone, and a knowing crescendo until the final question. But then, who is responsible, if not ourselves, accomplices, gives to the final minutes of the projection, an emotion such that is rare to feel in a theater.
In May 1956,Jacques Doniol-Valcroze reviewed the film for Cahiers du Cinema. This is quoted from that review. (page 37, my translation)
One could, thus, confine oneself to simply say that Alain Resnais has given proof of the maximum sobriety, discretion and elevation of thought possible. Nevertheless, here, there would be false modesty. And this film where everything is true calls, first off, for frankness. Thus, it is important to know that Night and Fog is a masterpiece of the film of montage and that between the documents used, the sequences shot (in color) in Poland, Jean Cayrol's commentary, and Hanns Eisler's music, Resnais has realized an extraordinary osmosis at the end of which, there is only one song.
A note in the introduction to the 10 Best Films 1956 lists published in Cahiers du Cinema in January 1957 reads. (my translation)
Let's point out that several mention Night and Fog "out of competition". This work, according to them, cannot, by its nature and its subject matter, enter into competition with other films.
That being said, of the 17 respondents that year (including Alain Resnais), 5 placed the film on their 10 best list - Charles Bitsch (placed 1st), Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Pierre Kast, Jacques Rivette (placed 1st), and François Truffaut (placed 1st).
Toute la mémoire du monde
Jacques Doniol-Valcroze reviewed the film in the December 1957 issue of Cahiers du Cinema. Cahiers generally avoided reviewing short films but that month they published reviews of this film and Jacques Rivette's Le Coup du berger. (page 60, my translation)
I add that were I a producer of feature-length films and keen to produce crime-thrillers, I would say to myself right now, "I have found my man: Alain Resnais." For there is everything in this film to inaugurate a new style of thriller, mid-road between Les Vampires and Hitchcock.
In that month's conseil des dix, Cahiers regulars Charles Bitsch, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Jacques Rivette gave the film 3 stars, as did the critics Henri Agel, Jean de Baroncelli, Robert Benayoun, Pierre Braunbarger, and Georges Sadoul. The film receive 2 stars from both André Bazin and J-P Vivet.
Le Chant du Styrène
From Godard on Godard : critical writings by Jean-Luc Godard / edited by Jean Narboni and Tom Milne ; with an introduction by Richard Roud ; translated by Tom Milne available on-line at Google Books for limited previewing.
Le Chant du Styrène is a brilliantly mounted film: and of what does one say such a thing but a piece of jewellery? When I first saw the film, I said to myself: It is impossible for Alain Resnais to go further than Toute le mémoire du monde, it is time for him to take the plunge into features. I was mistaken. I was wrong to think that Le Chant du Styrène could only, must only, be a negative film, like the other side of a décor (non-existent anyhow) For on the CinemaScope screen of the Olympia at Tours, Le Chant du Styrène seemed to be an Olympian film, of matchless gravity. “Make documentaries and first film mountains”, said Lubitsch, “then you will be ready to film people.” So Hiroshima, mon amour will be one of the great films, because Le Chant du Styrene proves that Alain Resnais has definitely mastered the secret of the matter. A film like this discourages interpretation. It makes a formidable impression (in the Latin sense of the word). Its slowness is merely apparent, like the helix turning at a thousand revolutions a minute. Each shot of Le Chant du Styrène, Alain Resnais’s fantastic farewell to the short film, has the cadence of a Bossuet sentence. To speak ill of it is a crime of lèsé-majesté. (page 103-104) (originally published Arts December 10 1958)
Simply because Resnais has invented the modern tracking shot, its breakneck speed, its abrupt start and slow arrival, or vice versa. Simply because he asked himself questions about the problem, and solved them. (page 116) (originally published Cahiers du Cinema February 1959)
Youth of French Cinema - (Cahiers du Cinema special December 1958)
The December 1958 issue of Cahiers du Cinema (table of contents ) stands as a sort of turning point in the history of the magazine. André Bazin's death which had occurred as the issue was being readied for the presses is reported. Most of the issue is dedicated to extracts from, or summaries of, scenarios by new filmmakers. A note at the beginning of the section notes, "Alain Resnais does not want for the moment to reveal Hiroshima mon amour". However, a still from the film provides the back cover.
Hiroshima mon amour Reviewing this film as part of the Cannes '59 coverage in the June 1959 issue of Cahiers du Cinema, René Guyonnet wrote, (page 39 my translation)
Disconcerting, difficult, abstruse, boring, intellectual, genius, sublime: these adjectives which have been applied to Hiroshima mon amour, after its first public showings, orient it straight toward the category of film maudit that might have been enviable ten years ago, but the notion of F. M. is today as outdated as avant-garde. Alain Resnais first feature-length film deserves better than to preach to the choir. It's qualities are such that, it should not only enthuse enlightened amateurs, but also a larger audience and, thus, encourage young directors on the way of resistance to concessions to sacrosanct public taste.
The July 1959 issue includes a round-table -Jean Domarchi, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Jean-Luc Godard, Pierre Kast, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer - discussion Hiroshima notre amour which, translated by Liz Heron appeared in Cahiers du cinéma, the 1950s : neo-realism, Hollywood, new wave / edited by Jim Hillier is available on-line for limited previewing at Google Books.
On the conseil des dix in July 1959, four Cahiers regulars Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Douchet, and Jacques Rivette gave the film 4 stars while Eric Rohmer only gave it 3 stars. (Rohmer rarely gave "New Wave" 4 stars.)
Among the non-Cahiers panelists, Henri Agel and Pierre Braunberger gave the film 4 stars while Jean de Baroncelli, Claude Mauriac, and Georges Sadoul gave it 3 stars. Its total of 36 stars was 2 more than The Four Hundred Blows.
The film appears on 27 of the 30, Ten Best Films - 1959 lists published in Cahiers du Cinema February 1960. It is left of the lists of Jean Douchet (who had given it 4 stars in conseil des dix in July 1959 but who did not laureate a "New Wave" film until 1961 (Jacques Demy's Lola), Michel Mourlet who only cited 6 films and, not surprisingly, Alain Resnais himself.
The Four Hundred Blows appears on 20 of those 30 lists.
Resnais and The 400 Blows
Jacques Doniol-Valcroze's write-up on The 400 Blows from the 1959 Cannes Film Festival in the June 1959 issue of Cahiers du Cinema ends with this statement which I have never seen elaborated on.
Bazin dead, Les Quartres cent coups, which he was the posthumous producer of, could only be dedicated to him. André alive, André present, it is to Alain Resnais that this film was naturally dedicated.
Is he saying that Truffaut's original impulse was to dedicate The 400 blows to Resnais?
L'Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad)
In February 1961, the "photo of the month" feature in Cahiers du Cinema spotlighted Alain Resnais and Françoise Bertin with Sacha Vierny taking a light reading off of Bertin's face. François Weyergans provided this caption, (page 47 my translation)
But "Last Year" will be, first off, an unbridled film, viscontian, ophulsian, wellesian. A marvelous labyrinth that will make you think of an opera, Resnais says again. When I asked him what opera: "An opera which is to come." Last Year at Marienbad which is, in every sense, the film to come.
In September 1961, Jacques Rivette and André S Labarthe interviewed Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Cahiers also published two short reviews.
François Weyergans wrote, in part, (page 23, my translation)
For Last Year at Marienbad does not exist in itself: The spectator vivifies the film (as the play of the regard brings to life the movement in Vasarely's canvases). Resnais and Robbe-Grillet make a call on the collective unconscious, having taken care to never inflect the narration in any such precise sense, but to let it drift. Their film is not an esoteric enterprise: it lays claim , on the contrary, to the largest audience.
André S Labarthe wrote, in part, (page 31, my translation)
In sum, Resnais and Robbe-Grillet do for film what, for a longtime, some abstract painters have done. They propose not a story, but a suite of images, and it is the spectator who introduces the depth. For the veritable successor of the figurative painter is not the abstract painter, but he or she who regards the abstract painting.
In the October 1961 issue of Cahiers, Jean Douchet wrote this from the Venice festival. (page 42 my translation)
It [Venice '61] has clearly been dominated by Last Year at Marienbad and it is justice that Resnais's film has gotten the Grand Prize. I will not dwell on this work which has the right, here even, to a special issue. However, three viewings have confirmed for me my initial reaction: If I recognize the perfection of Resnais's work, i admit ot being, more and more, violently against the principle which lies at the conception of this film. I do not believe in the penetration of the camera into the world of the mind.
In the conseil des dix in the November 1961 issue, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer gave the film 3 stars while the other two Cahiers regulars on that panel - Jean Douchet and Louis Marcorelles - gave it 2 stars. Among the non-Cahiers panelists, the film was awarded 4 stars by Michel Aubriant and Jean de Baroncelli, 3 stars by Henri Agel and Pierre Marcabru, 2 stars by Morvan Lebesque and Claude Mauriac was the only panelist to give the film 1 star.
In Febraury 1962, Cahiers du Cinema published 27 "ten best films lists", including one from Alain Resnais. L'Année dernière à Marienbad was cited on 10 lists including Cahiers regulars Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (placed 1st), Claude de Givray, Pierre Kast (placed 1st), André S Labarthe (placed 1st), François Mars, and François Weyergans. Producer Pierre Braunberger (placed 1st) and director Jacques Demy cited the film as did Paris critics Michel Aubriant and Jean de Baroncelli.
Alain Resnais thumbnail December 1962
In December 1962, Cahiers du Cinema published "New Wave" special issue. This is the thumbnail critique of Alain Resnais from that issue's Dictionary of New Wave directors.
All of Resnais's films are the invention of the world, the affirmation of the creative imagination leaving from the original night, demiurgic play of the spirit, going from free chaos to the one and to death. "The world comes", according to Bachelard, "to imagine itself in human reverie". And this reverie is a dream of forms, thus, a reflection of methods even of the filmmaker which are also henceforth, those of all art. Painting informs its vision, music guides its respiration, submitted to montage, that is to say, Orson Welles affirms to the ear. Picasso, Joyce, Stravinsky, and some others, have changed the senses and the memory of modern man. On this new acquisition, the artist resumes his reverie, which, now is the dream even of culture. Some trifling epigones make alibis. How to be rid of them? Such is, for the filmmaker, the problem.
Cahiers du Cinema bagan to prepare for Muriel with two short articles in the August 1963 issue, one by Jean-André Fieschi and one from François Truffaut.Jean-Louis Comolli covering the Venice festival in the October 1963 issue of Cahiers du Cinema wrote, in part, (page 30, my translation)
Muriel is Resnais most beautiful film, or better, his only one. The others, if you want, being only its draft, sketch, announcement.
In November 1963, Cahiers rather than review the film convoked a round-table (Pierre Kast, Claude Ollier, André S Labarthe, Jacques Rivette, Jean-Louis Comolli, Jean Domarchi, François Weyergans and Jean-André Fieschi) which covered about one quarter of the issue (18 pages) to discussing the merits of the film.In its January 1965 special issue on French cinema, Cahiers du Cinema published an article entitled "The Art of Being Loved" in attempted with ten recent films to account, individually, for their lack of commercial success. Jean-André Fieschi contributed this discussing Muriel. (page 104 my translation)
Failure...but only in relation to the budget and success of Resnais' first two films.
The fixed shots in Muriel track small pathetic lies whose sum make burst a universe of dissimulation inadmissable for a number of our contemporaries, A film this time of a liar about lies, thus one of blinding truth. Menteur, monteur, (liar, film-editor). Resnais inquires, delivers snippets, compiles leads which he clouds over following the most subtle of deceptions, an escalation of information. The naive willingly believe that it is a case of puzzle to reconstitute. But everything said, to the contrary.
The Cahiers panelists on the conseil des dix in November 1963 were rather split on Muriel. Jacques Rivette who was in process of assuming the editorship of the magazine gave the film 4 stars. Jean Douchet gave it 2 stars and Eric Rohmer (this would mark his last conseil) gave it 1 star. Among non-Cahiers panelists, four gave the film 4 stars - Jean-Louis Bory, Albert Cervoni, Jean Collet, and Bernard Dort; 2 gave it 3 stars - Geroges Sadoul and Jean de Baroncelli; and, it got 2 stars from Michel Aubriant.
When Cahiers published its "ten best film lists of 1963" in its February 1964, slightly more than half (21) of the 41 lists published included Muriel. Regular Cahiers contributor who listed the film were Jean-Pierre Biesse, Charles Bitsch, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Jean-André Fieschi, Claude Gauteur, Jean-Luc Godard, Pierre Kast, André S Labarthe, Louis Marcorelles, Luc Moullet, Jean Narboni, Claude Ollier, Jacques Rivette, and François Weyergans. The film also appears on the list of Positif's Robert Benayoun, and of Jean-Louis Bory, Albert Cervoni, Jean Collet, Jacques Demy, Bernard Dort and Agnès Varda.
La Guerre est finie
A classic film if there ever was one, La Guerre est finie baffles on first view, letting appear only rectangular surfaces lacking any fault-lines, distinctly discouraging analysis.
On the conseil des dix that month, among Cahiers regulars, Jean-André Fieschi gave the film 4 stars, while Jean-Louis Comolli and Jean Narboni gave it 3 stars and Michel Delahaye gave it 2 stars. Among non-Cahiers panelists, Positif's Robert Benayoun gave it 4 stars, Michel Aubraint, Jean-Louis Bory, Albert Cervoni and Georges Sadoul gave it 3 stars. Oddly, that month, Michel Cournot bulleted the board, including obviously this film.
In February 1967, Cahiers du Cinema published 70 "ten best films 1966", 23 of these lists cited La Guerre est finie including Cahiers regulars Michel Caen, Serge Daney, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (placed 1st), Jean Douchet, André Téchiné, Paul Vecchiali, Pierre Kast, Jean Narboni, and Cahiers publisher Daniel Filipacchi. Positif regulars Michel Ciment, Robert Benayoun and Roger Tailleur who submitted lists to Cahiers (Positif did not publish 10 best lists) all cited the film.
Patience and irony which in La Guerre est finie are said to be the two trump-cards of the Bolshevik sum up those of the film. Revolution and language exchange roles, one becoming after the spontaneous combustion of not long agoe, the modest servant of the other. Patience, one finds on the fatigued side, tired, vaulted with the hero, semi-clandestine, the epionage of the middle-ground, the Revolution of the expense account and all that is bleak and disillusioned in the word "permanent". Irony (eironeia or interrogation) is the step back, the distance which sets up the commentary, too often disparaged, coming from outside, the use of the familar, addressed to the hero by an anonymous voice (which is not his, or, in such a case, not recognizable) through which things are disinated by being pointed at. The lucidity and the commitment of Bombard in the middle of the ocean, memory yields step to action. Less prestigious, maybe, arguable and minimal, that one is proven , in any case, by one's persistence.
Je t'aime, je t'aime
The June/July 1968 issue of Cahiers du Cinema on the "films released in Paris" page offered a short review of Je t'aime, je t'aime while promising a full review in the next issue. This was the tumultuous summer of '68 and, not surprisingly, no full review was forthcoming. This short review was written by Jean-Louis Comolli. (page 71, my translation)
An attempt (missed) to fuse fiction and science-fiction, between a "prologue" and an "epilogue" (little importance their exact place, and, even, their dispersal throughout the course of the film, since they are given , in the narration, as the logical framework of the complete adventure.)flatly futuristic (savants in the style of La Jetée, time machines: the naivety even of these pretextual sentences provide a facet - possibly gladly - at one time, antiquated and childish to this work that is meanwhile concerned with extreme modernity), heavily explanatory, an apparently uncontrolled explosion, (quite, at least, by the experimenters depicted in the film) of the broken moments of a life. Tableaus surging apparently in disorder, scenes irregularly varied or repeated, quite a swelling, an audacious, mysterious jumble, which makes a great contrast with the prudent narratives of the sci-fi background into which they are inserted. But the interest of the film lies rather in the function of such a jumble. Curiously, the more the multiple tableaus deliver us information of the patient-hero, the more the morsels of life seem to fit one within the other to constitute some kind of puzzle, the less, in fact, we know of them. the gaps seem to multiply at the same time as the peices are able to fill them. To finish, most of the threads will be knitted, woven into motifs, but,as if, on the margins of a tapestry, itself absent.
Comolli then proceded to award the film 3 stars on the conseil des dix. That conseil would be the last - again the tumultuous summer of '68 - until the 1980s. Besides Comolli, the other Cahiers regulars on the conseil that month were Michel Delahaye - 2 stars - and Jean Narboni - 1 star. Positif's Robert Benayoun gave the film 4 stars. It received 3 stars from Michel Capdenac (Les Lettres Françaises), Henri Chapier (Combat), and Robert Chazal (France-Soir) and 2 stars from Jean-Louis Bory (Le Nouvel Observateur), Michel Aubriant (Paris-Presse) and Albert Cervoni (France-Nouvelle)