I learned a new film word thanks to Last Year at Marienbad: oneiric. It is used to describe dream-like imagery in films, and if any film deserves that label more than Last Year at Marienbad, I haven’t seen it. I’d heard a lot about Last Year at Marienbad before seeing it, and not all of it was positive, to say the least. Alain Resnais’ follow-up project to Hiroshima Mon Amour has gotten quite the reputation over the years; a very polarizing reputation. As Wikipedia puts it, some call it a masterpiece, others call it incomprehensible. As hesitant as these reactions made me to actually watching the film, I couldn’t help but have a slight inkling, a curiosity towards the film; this could be a surprise, or it could unfortunately be everything negative I’ve heard about it. So I watched it. Did it end up being either, or both? I really can’t say.
The plot of this one isn’t what’s important; a man approaches a woman at a social gathering and claims that she is there waiting for him, as per their previous meeting last year at Marienbad, while she claims to have no such memory of their encounter. If you’re going to watch this for the plot, or to try and make sense of the story, stop right now, turn around, and go watch a different film. This isn’t about the story; it’s about the way in which the story is presented. While Godard may have used the technical tricks of the camera and film itself to break the flow of watching his films, Resnais here decides to keep it all within the frame, but still toys with convention, narrative, and even time and space to make you feel slightly off or uneasy, and thus never completely immersed in the film. People in the film move robotically, as if they are floating through existence, or stand entirely still, as the camera either lingers or drifts past or around them, as though it were a ghostly apparition having a dream or a nightmare about the real life it is no longer a part of. The musical score was like something straight out of a carnival from hell, with a lot of pipe organ music, even when other instruments are playing on screen. But that’s really what you should expect out of this film: that you shouldn’t expect anything, either to be conventional or especially to be straightforward. There’s also a lot about the film I haven’t mentioned, but really, to try and write down everything about Last Year at Marienbad would be to try and describe what a color tastes like. You may just be better off experiencing it for yourself.
As it seems to be a commonality regarding polarizing films and my opinion of them, I ended up somewhere in the middle regarding Last Year at Marienbad. My rating of it is mostly reflective of what I think the average moviegoer will likely see it as, but I don’t mean every average moviegoer will see it this way; it will be more accurate to see it as the mean between two vastly differing opinions that are bound to arise from watching this film. I know I’m basically repeating what’s already been said about this one, but in this case, the repetition of what’s been said is repeated because it is quite clearly on the mark. I won’t say you’ll either hate or love Last Year at Marienbad, because I didn’t; you might end up in the middle, like I did, appreciating and understanding both arguments towards the film’s lasting impact, either positive or negative. That might be the best way to end up after watching a film like this, but again, I can only speak for myself. This is certainly a unique enough experience that I’d recommend you try it at least once before you die, however. You never know.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10