Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Je t'aime, je t’aime

This movie was the centerpiece of the Harvard Film Archive's Alain Resnais series, and perhaps even the reason for it, as the print was newly acquired. It screened three times over the course of a couple weekends, and I caught the last, by which point the Archive staff must have grown tired of introducing it and describing various interesting facts about the film and filmmakers. Apparently, it's not just new releases that are best seen during the first few nights.

As with many HFA series, I wish I'd been able to get to more. I found how much I liked this one sneaking up on me after I saw it, especially as I started writing the review. But, alas, by that point the series was done. Ah, well.

One thing that was kind of odd, considering the way the business works now, was that the print started with a Twentieth Century Fox logo. Not some boutique label, just plain Fox. "Fox Europa" was apparently the producer, but it seems downright strange for a big Hollywood studio to be distributing a foreign film with potentially niche appeal.

Je t'aime, je t’aime

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 June 2014 at the Harvard Film Archive (Alain Resnais, 35mm)

The program for this retrospective describes Je t'aime, je t’aime as director Alain Resnais's only science fiction film, although I Last Year at Marienbad certainly has a certain air of the fantastic as well. It is, however, the sort of science fiction that is less interested with advances in knowledge and technology than creating a device that can make literal an emotional state, and if that's your thing, Resnais does a fine job of bringing his idea to life.

The sci-fi idea is a time machine being developed by a team of scientists as part of a top-secret project in Belgium. They have, they believe, been successfully sending mice back one year for a period of one minute, but a mouse cannot exactly report back. To undertake this risky endeavor, they recruit Claude Ridder (Claude Rich), a writer just recovered from a nearly-successful suicide attempt. When the device is activated, he disappears, but his trip into the past takes the form of being a passenger in his own mind - and after that minute revisiting a vacation with his girlfriend Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot), he does not return to the present long enough for the technicians to safely extricate him, but instead finds his consciousness bouncing along the length of that relationship at seeming random.

Perhaps this simply happens because Claude is not a mouse, but in retrospect, it may not have been the wisest decision to to give someone in Claude's state a visit to the relatively recent past. It does allow Resnais and co-writer Jacques Sternberg a chance to perhaps demonstrate what it is like to have one's mind trapped in the past, unable to escape a memory no matter how much the afflicted may want our need to. It's a metaphor that makes a lot of sense right away, and Resnais & Sternberg make the details fit, from the occasional moments of terrifying lucidity to how one's friends (represented by decent-heated scientists with their own concerns) want to help but can't do much from the outside. There are bits that are perhaps kind of obvious, as when a scientist admits the future is more difficult to visit than the past, but others that are rather clever, like the time machine that suggests a brain, with the metallic elements plunging in perhaps an attempt to treat it with electroshock our trepanation. One imagines a young David Cronenberg seeing it and approving.

Full review at EFC

No comments: