One of France's most distinctive and
highly regarded directors, Alain Resnais was born in Vannes, France, in 1922. He
studied at L'Institut hautes études cinématographiques before starting a
career as a film-maker in the mid-1940s, making short films. Of these, the most
celebrated is Nuit et brouillard
(1955), an eye-opening and devastatingly poignant documentary about deportations
and Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War.
Resnais' first full-length film was
Hiroshima mon amour
(1959), an unusual romantic drama which was developed from an idea for a short documentary.
The film was critically acclaimed in France and abroad and won Resnais instant fame, establishing
him as a major director of the French New Wave. His following film, L'année
dernière à Marienbad
(1961), was no less successful, a remarkable
interplay of time and memory with some unforgettable visual imagery.
Although less prolific and reactionary than some of his New Wave contemporaries, Alain
Resnais continued to make original and provocative cinema which was, for the most part,
well received by the critics. This included films such as Muriel
(1963) , La guerre
(1974) and Providence
(1977), the latter of which won him seven awards at the Césars in 1978.
After a few disappointments in the 1980s,
Alain Resnais regained his reputation for inventive and highly artistic cinema in the
1990s. In Smoking/No Smoking
(based on a series of plays by the distinguished
English playwright Alan Ayckbourn), the stark minimalism which characterises Resnais'
later films is carried to its logical extreme, although the film is utterly compelling.
This was followed by On
connaît la chanson
(1997) and Pas sur
(2003), in which the director experimented with musical ideas, inviting
favourable comparisons with the work of the English television writer Dennis Potter.
The cinema of Alain Resnais has always been
challenging the boundaries and our assumptions of what cinema should be about, perhaps
more successfully than any other director. Although some of his films are highly
artistic, abstract and inaccessible, others have won notable mainstream success.
Few directors have achieved this degree of diversity whilst pursuing an extraordinarily
artistic vision of cinema. Alain Resnais' work is challenging, mysterious and often
entertaining, but it is also remarkably coherent, showing a keen appreciation of human
issues whilst exposing a creative force of great talent and daring.
© James Travers 2004
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