A review of the 1961 classic French film “Last Year In Marienbad”

Marienbad is a spa town in the Czech Republic, but no filming was done there for this thoroughly enigmatic work. The locations used for most of the interiors and gardens were the palaces of Schleissheim and Nymphenburg and other locations in and around Munich. But this is the least of the deceits, or at least doubts, in this radical French work directed by Alain Resnais and written by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Whether anything happened at Marienbad last year or at all cannot be known to the viewer. It might all be a game of imagination – there are lots of games in this film – of the principal character or of the writer and director themselves. Really we know nothing for sure. The characters have no names and no backstory; the woman (played by Delphine Seyrig) may be the wife of one of the men (Sacha PitoĆ«ff) and may have had an affair with one of the other men (Giorgio Albertazzi), but who knows?

What we do know is that the film looks extraordinary: the rooms, corridors, and ceilings of the luxury hotel are spectacularly ornate, the actors are frequently as frozen as the constant focus on statues, the woman’s dresses were designed by Chanel, and the wide-angle photography is stunning. The music by Francis Seyrig adds powerfully to the overall sense of dissonance.

Therefore it is little wonder that, while some critics regard this as one of the best films ever made, others have excoriated it. Personally, if all films were like this one, I would never visit the cinema again but, as a challenging and innovative contribution to the endlessly colourful palette of film-making, I was glad that I viewed it.


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