Alain Resnais - Director

Nationality: French. Born: Vannes, Brittany, 3 June 1922. Education: St.-François-Xavier, Vannes; studied acting under René Simon, Paris, 1940–42; attended Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques (IDHEC), Paris, 1943–45. Military Service: Served with occupation army in Germany and Austria. Family: Married Florence Malraux, 1969. Career: Member of travelling theatrical company, Les Arlequins, 1945; directed first feature, Ouvert pour cause d'inventaire , in 16mm, 1946; worked as film editor, 1947–58; worked in New York City, 1970–72; directed first film in English, Providence , 1977. Address: 70 rue des Plantes, 75014 Paris, France.

Films as Director:


Ouvert pour cause d'inventaire (short); Schéma d'une identification (short)


Visite à Lucien Coutaud (short); Visite à Félix Labisse (short); Visite à Hans Hartung (short); Visite à César Domela (short); Visite à Oscar Dominguez (short); Portrait d'Henri Goetz (short); La Bague (short); Journée naturelle (short); L'Alcool tue (short) (+ ph, ed)


Les Jardins de Paris (short) (+ ph, ed); Châteaux de France (short) (+ sc, ph, ed); Van Gogh (short); Malfray (short) (co-d); Van Gogh (+ ed)


Gauguin (short) (+ ed); Guernica (short) (co-d, ed)


Les Statues meurent aussi (short) (co-d, co-sc, ed)


Nuit et brouillard ( Night and Fog ) (short)


Toute la mémoire du monde (short) (+ ed)


Le Mystère de l'Atelier Quinze (short) (co-d)


Le Chant de Styrène (short) (+ ed)


Hiroshima mon amour


L'Année dernière à Marienbad ( Last Year at Marienbad )


Muriel, ou le temps d'un retour

Alain Resnais (behind camera) on the set of Toute la mémoire du monde
Alain Resnais (behind camera) on the set of Toute la mémoire du monde


La Guerre est finie ( The War Is Over )


Loin du Viêt-Nam ( Far from Vietnam ) (co-d)


Je t'aime, je t'aime (+ co-sc)






Mon Oncle d'Amérique


La Vie est un roman ( Life Is a Bed of Roses )


L'Amour à mort




I Want to Go Home


Gershwin (video)


Smoking ; No Smoking


On connaît la chanson ( Same Old Song )

Other Films:


Le Sommeil d'Albertine (ed)


Paris 1900 (ed)


Jean Effel (ed)


Saint-Tropez, devoir de vacances (ed)


La Pointe courte (ed)


L'Oeil du maître (ed); Broadway by Light (ed)


Paris à l'automne (ed)


By RESNAIS: books—

Repérages , Paris, 1974.

Hiroshima, Mon Amor , with Marguerite Duras and Richard Seaver, New York, 1987.

By RESNAIS: articles—

Interview with François Truffaut, in Arts (Paris), 20 February 1956.

"A Conversation with Alain Resnais," with Noël Burch, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1960.

Interview with André Labarthe and Jacques Rivette, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1961; reprinted in English in Films and Filming (London), February 1962.

Interview with Penelope Houston, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1961/62.

"Trying to Understand My Own Film," in Films and Filming (London), February 1962.

Interview with Marcel Martin, in Cinéma (Paris), December 1964 and January 1965.

Interview with Adrian Maben, in Films and Filming (London), October 1966.

"Last Words on Last Year: Discussion with Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet," in Films and Filming (London), March 1969.

Interview with Win Sharples Jr., in Filmmaker's Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), December 1974.

"Conversations with Alan Resnais," with James Monaco, in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1975.

Interview with S. Daney and others, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1983.

Interview with A. Finnane, in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), December 1984.

Interview with Robert Benayoun, and others, in Positif (Paris), September 1986.

" Smoking/No Smoking : Entretien avec Alain Resnais," with Marie-Claude Loiselle and Thierry Horguelin," in 24 Images (Montreal), Spring 1994.

"Drags to Riches," an interview with Trevor Johnson, in Time Out (London), 14 September 1994.

Interview with F. Thomas, in Positif (Paris) December 1997.

Interview with Patrick Duynslaegher and Philip Kemp, in Sight and Sound (London), December 1998.

On RESNAIS: books—

Cordier, Stéphane, editor, Alain Resnais, ou la création au cinéma , Paris, 1961.

Pinguad, Bernard, Alain Resnais , Lyon, 1961.

Alain Resnais , Premier Plan no. 18, October 1961.

Bournoure, Gaston, Alain Resnais , Paris, 1962.

Cowie, Peter, Antonioni, Bergman, Resnais , London, 1963.

Armes, Roy, The Cinema of Alain Resnais , London, 1968.

Ward, John, Alain Resnais, or the Theme of Time , New York, 1968.

Bertetto, Paolo, Resnais: Alain Resnais , Italy, 1976.

Kreidl, John Francis, Alain Resnais , Boston, 1977.

Monaco, James, Alain Resnais: The Role of Imagination , New York, 1978.

Benayoun, Robert, Alain Resnais: Arpenteur de l'imaginaire , Paris, 1980; revised edition, 1986.

Sweet, Freddy, The Film Narratives of Alain Resnais , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.

Vergerio, Flavio, I film di Alain Resnais , Rome, 1984.

Roob, Jean-Daniel, Alain Resnais: Qui êtes-vous? , Lyons, 1986.

Oms, Marcel, Alain Resnais , Paris, 1988.

Riambau, Esteve, La ciencie y la ficcion: El cine de Alain Resnais , Barcelona, 1988.

Thomas, François, L'Atelier de Alain Resnais , Paris, 1989. Callev, Haim, The Stream of Consciousness in the Films of Alain

Resnais , McGruer Publishing, 1997.

On RESNAIS: articles—

Marcorelles, Louis, "Rebel with a Camera," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1960.

" Nuit et brouillard Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), February 1961.

Kael, Pauline, "Fantasies of the Art House Audience," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1961/62.

Taylor, John Russell, "Alain Resnais" in Cinema Eye, Cinema Ear , New York, 1964.

Stanbrook, Alan, "The Time and Space of Alain Resnais," in Films and Filming (London), January 1964.

" Guernica Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), June 1964.

" Toute la mémoire du monde Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), October 1965.

"Resnais Issue" of L'Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), Summer 1966.

Roud, Richard, "Memories of Resnais," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1969.

Armes, Roy, "Resnais and Reality," in Films and Filming (London), May 1970.

Harcourt, Peter, "Memory Is Kept Alive with Dream," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1973.

Harcourt, Peter, "Toward a Certainty of Doubt," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1974.

"Resnais Issue" of Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1980.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "In Search of the American Uncle," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1981.

Dossier on Resnais, in Cinématographe (Paris), April 1982.

Brown, R., "Everyone Has His Reasons," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), May 1984.

Parra, D., "Alain Resnais, cinéaste de la limpidité," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), September 1984.

Moses, John W., "Vision Denied in Night and Fog and Hiroshima Mon Amour ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 15, no.3, 1987.

" Mélo Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), April 1987.

Durgnat, Raymond, "Resnais & Co.: Back to the Avant-Garde," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), May 1987.

Forbes, Jill, "Resnais in the '80s," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1987.

Tomasulo, Frank P., "The Intentionality of Consciousness: Subjectivity in Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad ," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), vol. 7, no. 2, 1988.

Prédal, René, "L'oeuvre de Alain Resnais: Regard du cinéaste et place du spectateur," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), April/May 1989.

McGilligan, Patrick, article in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 59, no. 3, 1990.

Fischer, Robert, "Buchbesprechung: Alain Resnais," in EPD Film (Frankfurt), December 1992.

Philippon, Alain, and others, "Le petit théâtre d'Alain Resnais," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1993.

Nacache, Jacqueline, Danièle Parra, and Guy Gauthier, "Smoking/No Smoking ," in Mensuel du Cinéma , December 1993.

Lalanne, Jean-Marc, "Trois formes du temps," in Mensuel du Cinéma , February 1994.

Leutrat, Jean-Louis, and others, " Smoking et No Smoking ," in Positif (Paris), January 1994.

Scorsese, Martin, "Cinq questions posées par Martin Scorsese," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1996.

Cremonini, Giorgio, "30 ragioni per amare Resnais," in Cineforum (Bergamo), July-August 1996.

Masson, Alain, and others, in Positif (Paris), 1997.

* * *

Alain Resnais is a prominent figure in the modernist narrative film tradition. His emergence as a feature director of international repute is affiliated with the eruption of the French New Wave in the late 1950s. This association was signaled by the fact that his first feature, Hiroshima mon amour , premiered at the Cannes Film Festival at the same time as François Truffaut's Les 400 coups. However, Resnais had less to do with the group of directors emerging from the context of the Cahiers du cinéma than he did with the so-called Left Bank group, including Jean Cayrol, Marguerite Duras, Chris Marker, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. This group provided an intellectual and creative context of shared interest. In the course of his film career Resnais frequently collaborated with members of this group. Marker worked with him on several short films in the 1950s; Cayrol wrote the narration for Nuit et brouillard and the script for Muriel ; Duras scripted Hiroshima mon amour ; and Robbe-Grillet wrote L'Année dernière à Marienbad. All of these people are known as writers and/or filmmakers in their own right; their association with Resnais is indicative of his talent for fruitful creative collaboration.

Resnais began making films as a youth in 8 and 16mm. In the early 1940s he studied acting and filmmaking, and after the war made a number of 16mm films, including a series about artists. His first film in 35mm was the 1948 short, Van Gogh , which won a number of international awards. It was produced by Pierre Braunberger, an active supporter of new talent, who continued to finance his work in the short film format through the 1950s. From 1948–58 Resnais made eight short films, of which Nuit et brouillard is probably the best known. The film deals with German concentration camps, juxtaposing past and present, exploring the nature of memory and history. To some extent the film's reputation and the sustained interest it has enjoyed is due to its subject matter. However, many of the film's formal strategies and thematic concerns are characteristic of Resnais's work more generally. In particular, the relationship between past and present, and the function of memory as the mechanism of traversing temporal distance, are persistent preoccupations of Resnais's films. Other films from this period similarly reveal familiar themes and traits of Resnais's subsequent work. Toute la memoire du monde is a documentary about the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. It presents the building, with its processes of cataloguing and preserving all sorts of printed material, as both a monument of cultural memory and as a monstrous, alien being. The film almost succeeds in transforming the documentary film into a branch of science fiction.

Indeed, Resnais has always been interested in science fiction, the fantastic, and pulp adventure stories. If this interest is most overtly expressed in the narrative of Je t'aime, je t'aime (in which a human serves as a guinea pig for scientists experimenting with time travel), it also emerges in the play of fantasy/imagination/reality pervading his work, and in many of his unachieved projects (including a remake of Fantômas and The Adventure of Harry Dickson ).

Through editing and an emphasis on formal repetition, Resnais uses the medium to construct the conjunctions of past and present, fantasy and reality, insisting on the convergence of what are usually considered distinct domains of experience. In Hiroshima mon amour the quivering hand of the woman's sleeping Japanese lover in the film's present is directly followed by an almost identical image of her nearly dead German lover during World War II. Tracking shots through the streets of Hiroshima merge with similar shots of Nevers, where the woman lived during the war. In Stavisky , the cutting between events in 1933 and a 1934 investigation of those events presents numerous, often conflicting versions of the same thing; one is finally convinced, above all else, of the indeterminacy and contingency of major historical events. And in Providence , the central character is an aged writer who spends a troubled night weaving stories about his family, conjoining memory and fantasy, past, present, and future, in an unstable mix.

The past's insistent invasion of the present is expressed in many different ways in Resnais's films. In Nuit et brouillard , where the death camps are both present structures and repressed institutions, it is a question of social memory and history; it is an individual and cultural phenomenon in Hiroshima mon amour , as a French woman simultaneously confronts her experiences in occupied France and the Japanese experience of the atomic bomb; it is construed in terms of science fiction in Je t'aime, je t'aime when the hero is trapped in a broken time-machine and continuously relives moments from his past; and it is a profoundly ambiguous mixture of an individual's real and imagined past in L'Année dernière à Marienbad (often considered Resnais's most avant-garde film) as X pursues A with insistence, recalling their love affair and promises of the previous year, in spite of A's denials. In all of these films, as well as Resnais's other work, the past is fraught with uncertainty, anxiety, even terror. If it is more comfortable to ignore, it inevitably erupts in the present through the workings of the psyche, memory traces, or in the form of documentation and artifacts.

In recent years, Resnais's presence on the international film scene barely has been noticed. While serious and provocative in intention, none of his films have measured up to his earlier work. However, in the early 1980s, he did direct two strikingly original films which are outstanding additions to his filmography.

In Mon Oncle d'Amerique , Resnais probes human responses and relations by illustrating the theories of Henri Laborit, a French research biologist. The scenario's focus is on the intertwined relationship between three everyday characters: a Catholic farm boy who has become a textile plant manager (Gerard Depardieu); a former young communist who now is an actress (Nicole Garcia); and a conformist (Roger Pierre) who is married to his childhood sweetheart. La vie est un roman (Life Is a Bed of Roses) is a bewitching allegory contrasting the accounts of a rich man (Ruggero Raimondi) constructing a "temple of happiness" around the time of World War I, and a seminar on education being held at that location decades later. Resnais's points are that there are no easy answers to complex dilemmas and, most tellingly, that individuals who attempt to dictate to others their concepts of perfection are as equally destructive as those whose actions result in outright chaos.

Resnais's filmic output has been relatively small. He nonetheless stands as a significant figure in modernist cinema. His strategies of fragmented point-of-view and multiple temporality, as well as his use of the medium to convey past/present and fantasy/imagination/reality as equivocal and equivalent modes of experience have amplified our understanding of film's capacity for expression.

—M. B. White, updated by Rob Edelman

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