Recent history has left us with many memorials to human destruction. None as evocative as Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Saying those names alone is enough. They carry a weight – scars that cannot be easily erased.
People who visit these places of memory experience something very particular, discombobulating. These places – where atrocities occurred – live on. Nature thrives, birds sing, people live right there. We feel they shouldn’t. Life should have stopped. Everything should have frozen those many years ago.
Life goes on.
And in our daily living we forget words like Hiroshima and Auschwitz.
“You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing.” These are the opening lines to the film Hiroshima Mon Amour. Is it possible to really see these places of great human suffering? Can they be anything more than museums to be consumed by the eye?
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) is a 90-minute French film from Alain Resnais, with text by Marguerite Duras. It stars Emmanuelle Riva as a French actress and Eiji Okada as a Japanese architect, who meet in Hiroshima and have a brief but fervent love affair.
Hiroshima Mon Amour is one of the most beautiful films I have seen. Every time I watch it, I discover more layers and nuances I hadn’t noticed before. The images and WORDS haunt me. They follow me and will not leave me alone. This film is pure poetry. Duras is a talented writer and her words have power.
What is interesting, Resnais also made a film about Auschwitz called Night and Fog (1955). The two films are quite different. Night and Fog is a documentary, while Hiroshima Mon Amour is… well, it’s labeled as drama and romance, but that seems inadequate.
What is Hiroshima Mon Amour?
At heart it is a love story of two people meeting and falling in love in the most unlikely place. A place that should have frozen. A place that should not be conducive to love.
It is also a story about remembering and forgetting. We should remember the atrocities of Hiroshima. We want to remember. But how can you remember the inconceivable? The unimaginable? How can you remember without experiencing? And even then, is it possible?
“Just as in love this illusion exists, this illusion of being able never to forget, so I was under the illusion that I would never forget Hiroshima. Just as in love.”
The beauty of the story is its simplicity. The beauty of the writing is its sparseness, brevity, and use of repetition. The lines are hauntingly beautiful.
Memory is malleable, and time its greatest enemy. With time, the memory of a love once felt changes from something enormous to something small and difficult to recall.
“I don’t even remember his hands very well… The pain, I still remember the pain a little.”
“Yes, tonight, I remember. But one day I won’t remember it any more. Not at all. Nothing.”
“I’ll forget you! I’m forgetting you already! Look at how I’m forgetting you!”
I can’t help but think about what is happening currently and the danger of not remembering the past. Watch this film and see what hate does. Watch this film and see what only love can express. Time has made us forget the pain and suffering of war. We need to remember.
This post is part of the Criterion Blogathon hosted by Kristina at Speakeasy, Aaron at Criterion Blues, and Ruth at Silver Screenings. Make sure to check out other participants. The Blogathon takes place over six days, Monday, November 16th through Saturday, November 21st.