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Hiroshima mon amour
SilverBlueSnow came late to Alain Resnais' mesmerising rethink of the romantic drama, HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, and in a retrospective review he discusses the film and its presentation on Criterion's excellent Blu-ray, which is available in the UK as well as the US.

Hiroshima mon amour is considered a key work in the history of cinema, and for most of us the film will demand that we invest in the experience by paying attention and reflecting afterwards. It emerged exactly at the onset of the Nouvelle Vague but it may be that it does not truly belong in that group. I can’t help but compare this to another 1959 film that I watched just a few day before: Ben Hur. They are at the opposite ends of the spectrum – both glorious examples of what cinema can be.

My first viewing of Hiroshima mon amour a year ago elicited several reactions from me – rapture, confusion, sadness and admiration. It was an important moment in my cinematic journey. My second watch last week immersed me even deeper into the film and I am in awe of what it manages to achieve.

Up to this point in time Alain Resnais was a documentary and short film-maker, perhaps best known for his Holocaust short Night and Fog from 1956. The production company Argos Films had secured funding to make a French-Japanese feature and they approached Resnais to make a documentary (up to 60 minutes) on Hiroshima. They gave him Japanese documentaries and films to watch to aide his education on the topic – Resnais returned to Argos Films stating that some of these Japanese features already did full justice to the tragedy and so he declined their offer.

Eventually Argos Films convinced Resnais to make a feature film in both France and Japan incorporating the bombing of Hiroshima into the story. He was very interested to work with the writer Marguerite Duras, who was hired to write the screenplay, and so Resnais eventually accepted. He cast theatre actress Emmanuelle Riva in her film debut, and Japanese actor Eiji Okada. Filming took place in Hiroshima and then in France by two respective teams and this gives the film two distinct looks.

The film is visually beautiful – the opening scene of the sand falling on the lovers’ embrace is so rich and suggestive, and it transforms magically into two bodies sweating in the summer heat of Hiroshima. Their movements are tender and their voiceover is poetic and mysterious. The Japanese man and the French woman remain nameless throughout – they represent more than just themselves and take on a symbolic meaning that each viewer will experience in their own way.

The woman and the man in Hiroshima mon amour

Emmanuelle Riva gives a very moving performance – as she recollects the past she relives the feelings viscerally. Hiroshima was a tragic event of destruction on a scale that is impossible to comprehend, yet suffering is universal and her character has lived her own tragedy. Her encounter with this Japanese man seems to give her the opportunity to relive these events in a way that she has not been able to do before – as she relives them there is a cathartic effect that is more emotional than intellectual. Their encounter opens up a portal to the past and the chance to free herself from unresolved emotion.

Eiji Okada is superb in his role – he did not speak French and learnt all his dialogue phonetically. He has a wonderfully still presence – he listens to the woman so attentively, he wants to understand her and he can sense this unresolved memory in her. His character serves to facilitate her healing. He is identified with Hiroshima yet he does not appear to have unresolved conflict around the event.

In the film, memories surface and bridge the gap between the past and the present – it is a continuous flow marked out by events that shape us and continues forward into the future. Characters are more than themselves – their stories are their own but they have a universal aspect to them. The specifics of the story are based in facts (time, place, events), and they are like background noise to the real exploration of identity, memory, connection etc. The film has to be experienced as it cannot be adequately described – each viewer needs to tune in to its energy. It takes effort as the narrative is elusive and demands us to stick with it and reflect. It is a beautiful journey.

As much as the film may appear cryptic, there is a grounded aspect – memories live in all of us and allow us to explore ourselves at a deeper level. This faculty belongs to everyone – encounters with others or our own reflections are opportunities for us to travel in time or to help others do likewise and to try to resolve disharmony. In the space of 24 hours this couple live an experience that changes who they are, and we can all do something similar – we can reach out to someone we hurt and seek forgiveness or we can seek to pardon those who hurt us, we can think of the people who suffered in Hiroshima and understand that our own suffering is part of being a human being.

Where the film falls short for me is how the tragedy of Hiroshima is portrayed – there is some documentary footage and shots inside a memorial museum, but the apocalyptic nature of the event is never really discussed between the characters. Hiroshima is one of the most frightening events in the 20th century and that never fully registers in this film.

sound and vision

The film received a restoration in 2013 that was a collaborative effort of various agencies and then scanned in 4K. It is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1.

Two different cinematographers worked on the film – Takahashi Michio worked in Japan and Sasha Vierny shot the French footage and they look different in their aesthetics – also the documentary footage means that the film does not have a consistent look to the image. The non-documentary black-and-white images have very good clarity and virtually no obvious damage. Film grain is present and gives an entirely authentic look. This is a beautiful example of how a film from this era can look.

The soundtrack is presented in a LPCM mono track and it is very clear throughout the film. The score by Giovanni Fusco (together with an exquisite waltz written by the great Georges Delarue) sounds excellent and the dialogue is clear and free of any distortion.

special features

Commentary by Peter Cowie
A fluid commentary track that is full of details on the films production as well as personal opinions on the film. Very informative and easy to listen to!

Interviews with Resnais 1961 (6 mins)and 1980 (12 mins)
Archival French interviews where the director discusses the production and themes of the film.

Hiroshima mon amour

Interviews with Emmanuele Riva 1959 (6 mins) and 2003 (20 mins)
In the 1959 Cannes interview, this first time cinema actress introduces herself and her part in the film. In the 2003 Criterion interview, the actress talks very openly about the production and her personal feelings about the film. It is a wonderful supplement.

Francois Thomas Interview (26 mins)
Here we get an excellent summary of how the project came into being and very insightful comments on the themes and interpretations of the film.

Memory and Meaning: The Music (10 mins)
The main Giovanni Fusco score creates a very particular atmosphere that adds so much colour to the film – it creates an avantgarde, slightly discordant mood and creates a deliberate pulse moving through the film. Georges Delerue wrote an exquisite French waltz theme that adds so much atmosphere to the restaurant scene. This is a very good talk about the music from Tim Page.

Revoir Hiroshima (11 mins)
A look at the film’s restoration work, which was a joint project between French organisations and L’immagine Ritrovato. The original camera negative was scanned in 4K.

For quite some time Criterion have invested less in their booklets, however here we get a nice one with 2 essays. Kent Jones is one of my favourite film critics – he is very articulate and sincere and he has a true love and respect for cinema. He looks at the place that the film holds in 20th century cinema and at Resnais the auteur, and he speculates about the themes of the film and the prophetic tone that it creates. In a way, that perfectly matches the film – his essay invites us to think, reflect and feel certain themes. It is an excellent piece of writing. There is an excerpt from a roundtable discussion on French cinema from a 1959 edition of Cahiers du Cinéma – the discussion includes Godard, Rivette and Rohmer. There are some really interesting observations and comments on the film in this discussion and it is clear that all involved hold the film in very high esteem.


In the booklet excerpt Rohmer says “I think that in a few years, in ten, in twenty, or thirty years we shall know whether Hiroshima was the most important film since the war, the first modern film or whether it was probably less important than we thought. In any case, it is an extremely important film”. 63 years later the reputation of this film remains that of a modern classic that is one of the most important works in all of cinema. Antonioni began creating a particular style that was evident from his 1950 debut Story of a Love Affair (which is especially linked to Hiroshima mon amour by its Giovanni Fusco score) and Visconti gave cinema a new feeling in Le Notti Bianche in 1957 but Resnais really opened the doors with this film.

I believe that every cinephile should see this film, but that they should be prepared to invest in it by giving it their full attention. It should be watched when we have the headspace to truly be curious about what Resnais has given us. This Criterion Blu-ray makes the film available once again (the 2016 Studiocanal Blu-ray is long out of print) to Region B collectors, and I view it as essential cinema!


Due to technical restrictions, screen grabs from the disc could not be secured for this review, and the image above has been included for illustrative purposes only.

Hiroshima mon amour

France | Japan 1959
90 mins
directed by
Alain Resnais
produced by
Anatole Dauman
Samy Halfon
written by
Marguerite Duras
Michio Takahashi (Japan)
Sacha Vierny (France)
Jasmine Chasney
Henri Colpi
Anne Sarraute
Georges Delerue
Giovanni Fusco
production design
Minoru Esaka (as Eska)
Lucilla Mussini (uncredited)
Emmanuelle Riva
Eiji Okada
Stella Dassas
Pierre Barbaud
Bernard Fresson

disc details
region B
LPCM 1.0 mono
French | Japanese | English
special features
Commentary by Peter Cowie
Interviews with Alain Resnais
Interviews with Emmanuele Riva
Francois Thomas Interview
Memory and Meaning: The Music
Revoir Hiroshima restoration featurette

Criterion | Sony Pictures Home Entertainment UK
release date
3 January 2022
review posted
25 August 2022

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