Last Year at Marienbad


1h 34m 1962

Brief Synopsis

A wealthy man tries to convince a bored socialite that they had an affair years earlier.

Film Details

Also Known As
L'anno scorso a Marienbad, L'année dernière à Marienbad
Genre
Drama
Experimental
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 Mar 1962
Production Company
Argos Films; Cineriz; Cinétel; Como Films; Les Films Tamara; Précitel; Silver Films; Société Nouvelle des Films Cormoran; Terra Films
Distribution Company
Astor Pictures
Country
France
Location
Photosonor Studios, Paris, France; Schleissheim, West Germany; Chateaux Nymphenburg, West Germany; Amalienburg, Munich, West Germany

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 34m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

Among the wealthy clientele at a lavish palace-spa are a man, X, a woman, A, and another man, M, who may be her husband or lover. While the other guests indulge in the games of the idle rich, X confronts A and reminds her that they met the previous year at Frederiksbad, or perhaps at Marienbad. Although the woman denies knowing him, X insists that they had an affair, that she suggested they meet this year at this hotel, and that she agreed to consider going away with him. At first the woman takes his story as a joke, but it soon becomes apparent that this is not a game. The other guests (seen only in profile), the silent string quartet, the domino games, and the performance of Ibsen's Rosmersholm lose their importance as the surface reality becomes lost in the private realities of the protagonists. Positive of their last meeting, X persists in his persuasion, filling the woman's mind with images that gradually become real, or seem to become real, to her. Inside the hotel, with its baroque furnishings, formal gardens, and sculpture, X and A go from one point in time to another, changing clothes and locale as X continues to try to convince A that his recollections of last year are true. Ultimately she is forced to overcome her fear and become what the stranger says she is--his lover; unquestioning, she leaves with him.

Film Details

Also Known As
L'anno scorso a Marienbad, L'année dernière à Marienbad
Genre
Drama
Experimental
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 Mar 1962
Production Company
Argos Films; Cineriz; Cinétel; Como Films; Les Films Tamara; Précitel; Silver Films; Société Nouvelle des Films Cormoran; Terra Films
Distribution Company
Astor Pictures
Country
France
Location
Photosonor Studios, Paris, France; Schleissheim, West Germany; Chateaux Nymphenburg, West Germany; Amalienburg, Munich, West Germany

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 34m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Writing, Screenplay

1963

Articles

Last Year at Marienbad - LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD - Alain Resnais's Provocative, Hypnotic Film Puzzle from 1962


As the old joke goes, in the dictionary, next to the phrase "art cinema," is the poster for Last Year at Marienbad. Characters without names, played by actors who barely change expression, walk through the lavish but coldly alienating vacation castles reserved for the rich and aristocratic. One elegantly poised man (Italian actor Giorgio Albertazzi), identified as "X" in the credits," tries to convince a beautiful but impassive woman, "A" (Delphine Seyrig, in a hairstyle as coolly sculpted as the film itself), that they met last year and had an affair and made plans to run away together. She tells him, with a preternaturally restrained sense of calm, that they have never met. He persists. She resists. Scenes shift through time and space and perhaps reality. Any "objective" perspective is rendered meaningless in the abstractions of the storytelling, the enigma of the characters, the blurring of past and present, memory and fantasy, even space itself.

Last Year at Marienbad opens like a ghost story. The camera creeps through the luxurious hallways and ballrooms of a hotel absent any human presence. A church organ accompanies the elegant camerawork as if in a gothic horror film, ominous and spooky, while a narrator fades in and out, going in circles with repeated descriptions of the hotel, like the introductory paragraph to a novel read over and over again. When we finally see humans in this estranged social landscape, they are like waxworks, frozen in place, trapped in time, or perhaps memory, briefly stuttering to life like enchanted statues to spit out fragments of meaningless conversation. This museum tour of the decadent European aristocracy at play continues for twenty minutes before the man walks up to the woman to tell her of their last meeting. "It was the garden of Friedriksbaad," he explains, and she was by the statues. She has never been to Friedriksbaad. Perhaps it was Marienbad.

At this stage, it appears to be a film of memory, or perhaps dreams of a wished-for past, filled with flashbacks/memories/stories, but which are themselves full of elisions and gaps and even, at times, contradictory. Even the "present" plays out like a remembrance, or perhaps a story told to oneself, bereft of distracting subplots and unnecessary detail. It's a story reduced to abstractions: of character, of narrative, of motivation, of scenes that dissolve between past and present as conversations span the temporal gap and X continues to pursue A with his stories of their affair. Did they really meet? Is he remembering, fantasizing, or just spinning a doozy of a seduction? Is she teasing him with her denials? Is the gaunt card player, identified in the credits as "M" (Sacha Pitoëff), A's husband, lover, or merely a rival for her attentions? What really happened last year?

The second feature film by Alain Resnais, Last Year at Marienbad defies and confounds audience expectations of cinema narrative. The film is a true collaboration between "Nouvelle Vague" director Alain Resnais, who sought to challenge the conventions of cinematic storytelling, and novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, a leading author in the "nouvelle romain" movement, which favored elaborate observation and surface description of events without character analysis or psychological perspective. Robbe-Grillet's script is filled with detailed description and even suggestions for camerawork, but features no indications of emotional or psychological states of the characters. Resnais helped guide and shape the story but did not participate in the actual scripting beyond notes and suggestions, and he was very faithful to the individual scenes and the overall structure while bringing his own distinctive authorial presence in his exacting direction, his acutely stylized scenes and mise-en-scene sculpted out of actors, décor and theatrical lighting.

The effect is a film that defies emotional connection. It holds story and characters at arm's length, playing out as part mystery, part intellectual exercise, yet the very enigma is spellbinding. The scenes are stiffly formal, with actors positioned in space rather than directed, reciting rather than acting. They are stripped of backstory or psychological inner lives and have no ties to a world outside of this world. (Resnais originally wanted the politics of the day to infiltrate their lives but Robbe-Grillet convinced him otherwise and Resnais, in the end, realized he was right.) X tells A their story in the form of second person narration, always saying "you," never "I."

The very sets and setting become abstracted by Resnais' exacting compositions. The film was shot on location at two different castles in Germany (Resnais could not find the baroque architecture he envisioned for the film in France, at least not on the budget he had) and in the studio in France. Resnais cut freely between them all, often within scenes, to further the feeling of dislocation, creating "imaginary rooms," in the words of second assistant director Volker Schlondorff. Cinematographer Sacha Vierny sculpted the interiors with intricate theatrical lighting to bring out the sense of depth and emphasize the scale of the lavish locations. The geometrically precise gardens and walkways of the castle grounds, by contrast, become a perfectly etched and unnaturally carved landscape that looks more unreal the more we stare at it. The outside world becomes almost indistinguishable from the paintings and architectural drawings on the walls of the castles: three dimensional spaces collapsed into two dimensional expression. In one famous shot, as the sun drops in the sky, the frozen human figures in the landscape cast shadows but the impeccably trimmed shrubs do not. (The human shadows were, in fact, painted on the ground to create the effect.)

For all the abstraction, it's a compelling film, a tantalizing mystery and a work of cinema as intricately faceted as a jewel. The characters betray no emotion, or at least seem not to, yet there is palpable tension behind the riveting gaze of Giorgio Albertazzi's X. In one moment, A breaks the spell of emotional detachment by allowing a tear to fall down her cheek. Rather than providing answers, it merely makes the enigma richer for the viewer, who ultimately must draw their own conclusions to the story they've seen play out on screen. Which is exactly what the filmmakers intended.

Criterion's new edition comes out on both DVD and Blu-ray in a superb transfer from a rich fine-grain master print that has been digitally cleaned and fine-tuned, supervised and approved by Alain Resnais. At the director's insistence, Criterion includes the original, unrestored soundtrack along with the remastered, cleaned-up version. "By correcting so-called flaws, one can lost the style of a film altogether," he writes in the liner notes.

The details of the making of the film and insight to the collaboration between Resnais and Robbe-Grillet are explored in the original 33-minute documentary Unraveling the Enigma: The Making of Marienbad, which features new interviews with first assistant director Jean Léon, Production Designer Jacques Saulnier, second assistant director Volker Schloendorff and script girl Sylvette Baudrot. Director Resnais is notably absent from this documentary but offers his perspective and remembrances of the film in a new 33-minute audio interview recorded exclusively for this release. Illustrated with stills, script pages with the director's notes and sketches and brief clips, it's definitely a perspective marked by the passage of time, but he also discusses his inspirations (he had the cast and crew watch "Pandora's Box" and "Vertigo") and practical details, and he cites his producers as fellow collaborators.

The Blu-ray case is like Criterion's initial Blu-ray packaging, in a paperboard digipak in a slipsleeve, with the title embossed rather than printed, evoking the main titles of the film. With the fat little booklet, featuring a new essay by Mark Polizzotti, Alain Robbe-Grillet's introduction of his published screenplay and notes by Francois Thomas, it's a tight fit in the slipsleeve.

For more information about Last Year at Marienbad, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Last Year at Marienbad, go to TCM Shopping.

by Sean Axmaker
Last Year At Marienbad - Last Year At Marienbad - Alain Resnais's Provocative, Hypnotic Film Puzzle From 1962

Last Year at Marienbad - LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD - Alain Resnais's Provocative, Hypnotic Film Puzzle from 1962

As the old joke goes, in the dictionary, next to the phrase "art cinema," is the poster for Last Year at Marienbad. Characters without names, played by actors who barely change expression, walk through the lavish but coldly alienating vacation castles reserved for the rich and aristocratic. One elegantly poised man (Italian actor Giorgio Albertazzi), identified as "X" in the credits," tries to convince a beautiful but impassive woman, "A" (Delphine Seyrig, in a hairstyle as coolly sculpted as the film itself), that they met last year and had an affair and made plans to run away together. She tells him, with a preternaturally restrained sense of calm, that they have never met. He persists. She resists. Scenes shift through time and space and perhaps reality. Any "objective" perspective is rendered meaningless in the abstractions of the storytelling, the enigma of the characters, the blurring of past and present, memory and fantasy, even space itself. Last Year at Marienbad opens like a ghost story. The camera creeps through the luxurious hallways and ballrooms of a hotel absent any human presence. A church organ accompanies the elegant camerawork as if in a gothic horror film, ominous and spooky, while a narrator fades in and out, going in circles with repeated descriptions of the hotel, like the introductory paragraph to a novel read over and over again. When we finally see humans in this estranged social landscape, they are like waxworks, frozen in place, trapped in time, or perhaps memory, briefly stuttering to life like enchanted statues to spit out fragments of meaningless conversation. This museum tour of the decadent European aristocracy at play continues for twenty minutes before the man walks up to the woman to tell her of their last meeting. "It was the garden of Friedriksbaad," he explains, and she was by the statues. She has never been to Friedriksbaad. Perhaps it was Marienbad. At this stage, it appears to be a film of memory, or perhaps dreams of a wished-for past, filled with flashbacks/memories/stories, but which are themselves full of elisions and gaps and even, at times, contradictory. Even the "present" plays out like a remembrance, or perhaps a story told to oneself, bereft of distracting subplots and unnecessary detail. It's a story reduced to abstractions: of character, of narrative, of motivation, of scenes that dissolve between past and present as conversations span the temporal gap and X continues to pursue A with his stories of their affair. Did they really meet? Is he remembering, fantasizing, or just spinning a doozy of a seduction? Is she teasing him with her denials? Is the gaunt card player, identified in the credits as "M" (Sacha Pitoëff), A's husband, lover, or merely a rival for her attentions? What really happened last year? The second feature film by Alain Resnais, Last Year at Marienbad defies and confounds audience expectations of cinema narrative. The film is a true collaboration between "Nouvelle Vague" director Alain Resnais, who sought to challenge the conventions of cinematic storytelling, and novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, a leading author in the "nouvelle romain" movement, which favored elaborate observation and surface description of events without character analysis or psychological perspective. Robbe-Grillet's script is filled with detailed description and even suggestions for camerawork, but features no indications of emotional or psychological states of the characters. Resnais helped guide and shape the story but did not participate in the actual scripting beyond notes and suggestions, and he was very faithful to the individual scenes and the overall structure while bringing his own distinctive authorial presence in his exacting direction, his acutely stylized scenes and mise-en-scene sculpted out of actors, décor and theatrical lighting. The effect is a film that defies emotional connection. It holds story and characters at arm's length, playing out as part mystery, part intellectual exercise, yet the very enigma is spellbinding. The scenes are stiffly formal, with actors positioned in space rather than directed, reciting rather than acting. They are stripped of backstory or psychological inner lives and have no ties to a world outside of this world. (Resnais originally wanted the politics of the day to infiltrate their lives but Robbe-Grillet convinced him otherwise and Resnais, in the end, realized he was right.) X tells A their story in the form of second person narration, always saying "you," never "I." The very sets and setting become abstracted by Resnais' exacting compositions. The film was shot on location at two different castles in Germany (Resnais could not find the baroque architecture he envisioned for the film in France, at least not on the budget he had) and in the studio in France. Resnais cut freely between them all, often within scenes, to further the feeling of dislocation, creating "imaginary rooms," in the words of second assistant director Volker Schlondorff. Cinematographer Sacha Vierny sculpted the interiors with intricate theatrical lighting to bring out the sense of depth and emphasize the scale of the lavish locations. The geometrically precise gardens and walkways of the castle grounds, by contrast, become a perfectly etched and unnaturally carved landscape that looks more unreal the more we stare at it. The outside world becomes almost indistinguishable from the paintings and architectural drawings on the walls of the castles: three dimensional spaces collapsed into two dimensional expression. In one famous shot, as the sun drops in the sky, the frozen human figures in the landscape cast shadows but the impeccably trimmed shrubs do not. (The human shadows were, in fact, painted on the ground to create the effect.) For all the abstraction, it's a compelling film, a tantalizing mystery and a work of cinema as intricately faceted as a jewel. The characters betray no emotion, or at least seem not to, yet there is palpable tension behind the riveting gaze of Giorgio Albertazzi's X. In one moment, A breaks the spell of emotional detachment by allowing a tear to fall down her cheek. Rather than providing answers, it merely makes the enigma richer for the viewer, who ultimately must draw their own conclusions to the story they've seen play out on screen. Which is exactly what the filmmakers intended. Criterion's new edition comes out on both DVD and Blu-ray in a superb transfer from a rich fine-grain master print that has been digitally cleaned and fine-tuned, supervised and approved by Alain Resnais. At the director's insistence, Criterion includes the original, unrestored soundtrack along with the remastered, cleaned-up version. "By correcting so-called flaws, one can lost the style of a film altogether," he writes in the liner notes. The details of the making of the film and insight to the collaboration between Resnais and Robbe-Grillet are explored in the original 33-minute documentary Unraveling the Enigma: The Making of Marienbad, which features new interviews with first assistant director Jean Léon, Production Designer Jacques Saulnier, second assistant director Volker Schloendorff and script girl Sylvette Baudrot. Director Resnais is notably absent from this documentary but offers his perspective and remembrances of the film in a new 33-minute audio interview recorded exclusively for this release. Illustrated with stills, script pages with the director's notes and sketches and brief clips, it's definitely a perspective marked by the passage of time, but he also discusses his inspirations (he had the cast and crew watch "Pandora's Box" and "Vertigo") and practical details, and he cites his producers as fellow collaborators. The Blu-ray case is like Criterion's initial Blu-ray packaging, in a paperboard digipak in a slipsleeve, with the title embossed rather than printed, evoking the main titles of the film. With the fat little booklet, featuring a new essay by Mark Polizzotti, Alain Robbe-Grillet's introduction of his published screenplay and notes by Francois Thomas, it's a tight fit in the slipsleeve. For more information about Last Year at Marienbad, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Last Year at Marienbad, go to TCM Shopping. by Sean Axmaker

Last Year at Marienbad


An art-house hit of its day, Last Day at Marienbad (1962) directed by Alain Resnais is seen today as a watermark of challenging cinema and, conceptually, represents a breakthrough in the cinematic representation of psychology.

The plot, such as it is, concerns a man who approaches a woman at an elegant hotel, then continually tries to convince her that they have met before, the year prior, at a retreat for the wealthy bourgeois, probably in Marienbad. She does not remember this meeting and becomes more annoyed as he presses on the subject.

On the surface, the simple story seems trivial enough, and the dreamlike tone and the film's stunning visual patterns (geometrical checkerboard landscapes, painted shadows, fluid tracking shots, unique use of mirrors and photographs, striking use of monochromatic repetition) gives us the impression of overt calculation. It's understandable to see why some viewers feel this film works purely on the level of intellectual abstraction. Yet for the daring viewer, if you dig deeper, you'll soon realize that the plot is an outlet to convey a creeping level of uncertainty. Its fascination lies not with the story but its execution of time and the questions of our immediate reality.

It's a film that defies comprehension , but still has enough meaning to allow the viewer to conclude for himself what the film is about - and what is it about? Viewers have debated this question for years: It's the story of a woman who returns to a hotel to meet her lover but is driven by guilt to deny the affair; or it's the story of a seducer who hangs around in a fashionable hotel convincing women to relive past sins in order to gain future ecstasies; or it's a story of a man who creates a fantasy out of his own vision relating to feeling and emotions he would have trouble conveying otherwise if he did not project them onto a dream psyche.

Whatever your interpretation, the story itself remains a mystery to the characters in the film and thus makes a beguiling game for the viewer. The fun lies with the questions, not the answers.

Directed by Alain Resnais
Screenplay by Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet
Produced by Pierre Courau
Music by Francis Seyrig
Cinematography by Sacha Vierny
Cast: Delphine Seyrig (A/Woman), Giorgio Albertazzi (X/Stranger), Sacha Pitoeff (M/Escort/Husband).
BW-93m.

by Michael Toole

Last Year at Marienbad

An art-house hit of its day, Last Day at Marienbad (1962) directed by Alain Resnais is seen today as a watermark of challenging cinema and, conceptually, represents a breakthrough in the cinematic representation of psychology. The plot, such as it is, concerns a man who approaches a woman at an elegant hotel, then continually tries to convince her that they have met before, the year prior, at a retreat for the wealthy bourgeois, probably in Marienbad. She does not remember this meeting and becomes more annoyed as he presses on the subject. On the surface, the simple story seems trivial enough, and the dreamlike tone and the film's stunning visual patterns (geometrical checkerboard landscapes, painted shadows, fluid tracking shots, unique use of mirrors and photographs, striking use of monochromatic repetition) gives us the impression of overt calculation. It's understandable to see why some viewers feel this film works purely on the level of intellectual abstraction. Yet for the daring viewer, if you dig deeper, you'll soon realize that the plot is an outlet to convey a creeping level of uncertainty. Its fascination lies not with the story but its execution of time and the questions of our immediate reality. It's a film that defies comprehension , but still has enough meaning to allow the viewer to conclude for himself what the film is about - and what is it about? Viewers have debated this question for years: It's the story of a woman who returns to a hotel to meet her lover but is driven by guilt to deny the affair; or it's the story of a seducer who hangs around in a fashionable hotel convincing women to relive past sins in order to gain future ecstasies; or it's a story of a man who creates a fantasy out of his own vision relating to feeling and emotions he would have trouble conveying otherwise if he did not project them onto a dream psyche. Whatever your interpretation, the story itself remains a mystery to the characters in the film and thus makes a beguiling game for the viewer. The fun lies with the questions, not the answers. Directed by Alain Resnais Screenplay by Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet Produced by Pierre Courau Music by Francis Seyrig Cinematography by Sacha Vierny Cast: Delphine Seyrig (A/Woman), Giorgio Albertazzi (X/Stranger), Sacha Pitoeff (M/Escort/Husband). BW-93m. by Michael Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed in Munich, including the chateaux of Nymphenburg and Schleissheim. Opened in Paris in September 1961 as L'année dernière à Marienbad; running time: 100 min; in Rome in November 1961 as L'anno scorso a Marienbad; running time: 90 min.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Foreign Films by the 1962 New York Times Film Critics.

Winner of the Golden Lion for Best Film at the 1961 Venice Film Festival.

Released in United States August 29, 1961

Released in United States July 7, 1990

Released in United States Spring March 7, 1962

Re-released in United States February 1, 2008

Re-released in United States January 18, 2008

Shown at Pacific Film Archive (A Producer's Vision: Anatole Dauman) in Berkeley, California July 7, 1990.

Shown at Venice Film Festival August 29, 1961.

Restored print re-released in New York City (Film Forum) January 18, 2008.

Began shooting September 1960.

Completed shooting November 1960.

Dyaliscope

Re-released in London December 3, 1993.

Re-released in United States January 18, 2008 (Film Forum; New York City)

Re-released in United States February 1, 2008 (Los Angeles)

Released in United States July 7, 1990 (Shown at Pacific Film Archive (A Producer's Vision: Anatole Dauman) in Berkeley, California July 7, 1990.)

Released in United States August 29, 1961 (Shown at Venice Film Festival August 29, 1961.)

Released in United States Spring March 7, 1962