Hiroshima Mon Amour Review

Kev reviews Alain Resnais’s 1959 masterpiece, which is available to buy tomorrow thanks to Nouveaux Pictures

Originally conceived to be a documentary about the atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima, Hiroshima Mon Armour came to be as it is now after a much troubled start. In 1955 director, Alain Resnais directed a short film entitled Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog) which spoke of the horrifying events in the wake of the Holocaust. Later he would be asked to film a documentary about Hiroshima to which he responded positively, provided that film maker, Chris Marker would work on it. When Marker pulled out of the project after just ten days Resnais decided it would be a task he could no longer do. Instead he felt that all the great documentaries had already been made on the subject and so Hiroshima Mon Amour would take things in a different direction, with the help of screen writer and novelist, Marguerite Duras.

The film tells the story of a man (Eiji Okada) and a woman (Emanuelle Riva) who we’ll refer to now as Okada and Riva, both of whom are unnamed and who become entwined during a night of passion, which leads on to a 24-hour scenario in which neither one can do without the other. Set against a backdrop of post war Hiroshima the pasts of these characters are juxtaposed and reflected upon in a series of deliberately repetitive moments that require the viewer to seek out and deconstruct its narrative.

It isn’t until after the first ten, harrowing minutes that we begin to see a film about a romance take shape. By no means should we forget the events of August 6th 1945 as the film carefully and most importantly reminds us in a respectable fashion but when it comes to our emotions some things are best forgetting and moving on with.

Hiroshima Mon Amour is not a film about this particular moment in time, it is essentially a tale of lost love and new found passion. Riva has lived the past 15 years holding on to her first love who died during the war. Her memories have haunted her and for too long she has dreamt many a nightmarish dream whereby she begins to struggle in differentiating reality and dreamscape. Being scared to love again by constantly reminding herself that she would be dishonouring her first love she steers clear from ever embarking on another serious relationship, instead favouring the occasional one night stand where commitment clearly is not an issue. But when Okada enters her life her feelings rapidly change and the lonely and confused harbinger within her soul begins to wilt. If the film has any central message then it is to tell us that we do need to forget and move on in life; we must never be afraid of change or else certain events in the world will never go beyond sadness and despair.

Suffused with its psychological tracking is Takahashi Michio and Sacha Vierny’s exquisite cinematography, under Resnais’s keen eye which instils a fascinating amount of life in what would only be several predominantly used locations. The film shifts all over the place as it follows Okada and Riva from their first moment together to Okada’s persistency in perusing the woman he loves.

Hiroshima Mon Amour‘s façade is one of deep poignancy – a melding of sentimentalities which are never truly diffused by its critical endeavour to tell a beautiful story. Clearly Hiroshima Mon Amour is an important piece of work, it is also one of the most structurally surreal films ever made. It ignores several conventional rules of film making, though sticks to a three act routine whilst breaking down its elements and shuffling them as it re-enacts a 15 year timeline as seen through the eyes of its female protagonist, who is played marvellously by Riva in her film debut. The film’s rewards are plentiful for those willing to take part in deciphering it, helped largely by some striking and emotional visuals and Riva and Okada’s (who learned his French specifically for the role) amazing chemistry it pulls off a feat that hasn’t been repeated all too often since.


Nouveaux Pictures present Hiroshima Mon Amour in the UK with a newly restored print and some sparse but worthwhile extras.


Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, Hiroshima Mon Amour has the added bonus of being digitally remastered from a restored print. While I cannot compare it to Criterion’s earlier effort I can say that by large the transfer is wonderful. Granted the print isn’t perfect, certainly not cleaned up extensively as there is still evident wear and tear but tones are strong, exhibiting fine shadow and close up details. Edge Enhancement is unfortunately present but doesn’t prove to be too problematic. Overall for a film as old as this it looks quite remarkable at times and until I see any other prints then I couldn’t really ask for more.


The original 2.0 track is also present and makes for a very satisfying listen. Georges Delerue and Giovanni Fusco’s engaging score is channelled extremely well through the main front speakers and provides as much of an impact as is needed, while dialogue is clear with very little in the way of noise, such as hiss and crackling.
English subtitles are optional and are of fine clarity and excellent quality.


Picture Gallery
Consisting of only 13 pictures this gallery provides screen grabs taken from the film. A shame as some behind the scenes stuff would have been nice.

Documentary: Hiroshima ou la temps d’un retour (31.28)
This newly made documentary traces the early life of Alain Resnais before shifting quickly onto the main subject of this film. A lot of decent facts are presented to us and great accounts of making the piece, from its conception to the end result. Several points are made about its story and the many ways it has been interpreted in the past. It would have been great to have seen interviews with the cast and director but we make do with the narrated piece and it succeeds in handing out a wealth of information in the end.


Hiroshima Mon Amour is a funny, painful and moving experience that explores our most inner psyche. It imbues a sense of stark realism and poeticism which has proven it to be a landmark in not only French but international cinema as a whole.

Nouveaux Pictures have put together a splendid little package for DVD fans in the UK which deserves to be in anyone’s collection.

Kevin Gilvear

Updated: Feb 27, 2005

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