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Ten Words of LessReview – Total enigma of a movie, but pretty to look at.

Cryptic and difficult to understand at most points “Last Year at Marienbad” is a surreal film experience which takes place at a hotel which straddles some kind of purgatory-like otherworld.  Filmed with a deeply mysterious black and white style, director Alain Renais obsesses over lavish settings of this haunting palace.  The opulence is unending, all of which is obsessively poured over in the opening by a narrator who seems to run on a loop, forever enamored with the environment which imprisons these people.  There is no end to the striking visuals as they pile up onto each other like a wonderful art project thrust up to the screen.  But as the images continue to mount, the meaning of what’s transpiring becomes less and less clear, eventually leaving us out in the cold looking for an answer that doesn’t exist.

The crux of the story involves a man attempting to reconnect to a woman whom he’s positive he had an affair with the previous year.  Despite the numerous details, his knowledge of events and recounting of their emotions, she cannot remember ever meeting him.  The time jumping, juxtaposed structure creates the sensation of multiple places and times all crashing into one another.  The viewer is lead to believe that he may be correct in his assertions, but she cannot connect the dots to him and their past.  An ominous husband character lurks in the shadows playing games with people he always wins.  People freeze in place like statues.  It all adds up to a film which questions reality and memory but doesn’t dangle many answers.

“Marienbad” takes on the aura of the art contained within the bizarre hotel.  Like the gorgeous classical paintings and statues, everyone inside has been transfixed to one spot from which they can’t leave.  They are there to be analyzed and thought about, but the ultimate meaning of it is up to the viewer.  The whole film feels like this by extension.  Are these people ghosts?  Is everyone dreaming?  Are they anything?  David Lynch could probably explain it all.  This ambiguity is both a blessing and a curse.  While the lack of traditional narrative and bold visuals marry together for a unique experience, there’s no right answer to any of it.  With the door open for the film to mean anything, it’s left with a faintly damning question, does it mean anything at all?  As odd, classic European art films go, “Last Year at Marienbad” is one of the most singularly unique ones viewers will find.  Its enigmatic nature will engross some but frustrate others.  This viewer found it to be a little bit of both.


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