Alain Resnais

From New World Encyclopedia

Alain Resnais
Date of birth: June 3 1922(1922-06-03)
Birth location: Vannes, Morbihan, Bretagne, France
Date of death: March 1 2014 (aged 91)
Death location: Paris, France

Alain Resnais (June 3, 1922 – March 1, 2014) was a French film director whose early works are often grouped—incorrectly—within the New Wave or Nouvelle Vague film movement. Although he had a long and fruitful career, Resnais is best known internationally for four of his earlier works: Night and Fog (1955), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), L'Année Dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) (1961), and La Guerre est finie (1966).


Alain Resnais was born in Vannes, France, and was highly regarded in his native country and by some international cinephiles. He began making films in the mid-1940s after completing his studies at L`Institut hautes études cinématographiques. He made several short films during this time, such as Guernica (1950), based on the Picasso painting and the town and battle that inspired it. His seminal short Night and Fog (1955) was one of the first documentaries about the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. Resnais chose to approach the subject indirectly because he felt an excess of gruesome imagery might make the Holocaust seem unreal and incomprehensible to his viewers. Instead, he chose to film the empty concentration camps as they appeared in the nineteen fifties and avoided using stock footage of the actual Holocaust until the very end of the film. The form of the film was revolutionary at the time and has been imitated many times since. In fact, Resnais's film oeuvre is known for challenging the boundaries and assumptions of what film is or should be about.

Resnais' most famous feature films also use innovative techniques to explore the subjectivity of memory in dealing with past violence and horrors. He completed his first full-length film, Hiroshima, Mon Amour, based on the novel by Marguerite Duras, in 1959. It is a romantic drama about a young French actress appearing in an anti-war film in the rubble and reconstruction of the city of Hiroshima, Japan. She quickly begins a brief unstable affair with a Japanese architect. The affair brings to light the political and cultural tensions that underlie even their most personal experiences and memories. The film made groundbreaking use of then innovative flashbacks to explore her repressed memories of a German lover killed in World War II and the subsequent humiliation and captivity imposed on her by her family. This movie was a great success for Resnais, garnering him international fame and cementing his place in French cinematic history.

In 1960 Resnais completed his other world-known classic, Last Year at Marienbad, in partnership with writer/filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet. The film concerns a man known only as X who meets a woman named A at an old-fashioned European resort and attempts to convince her that they met there once before as lovers. In this film, Resnais took his exploration of subjective memory to shockingly experimental lengths, creating an unstable reality that shifts fluidly along with its characters' perceptions. As X attempts to conveys to A his memories of their previous meeting, the very landscape around them morphs rapidly from shot to shot as the memories he describes flood into the present moment. Similar scenes play out in different ambiguous versions, and the viewer is unable to ascertain whether X is a villain who actually raped A or a hero/lover who helps her to escape from a dystopic prison-like resort. Many believe the film to be loosely based on the novel The Invention of Morel. The film remains controversial; many critics hail it as one of the heights of world cinema, but it has also been denounced as an overrated, overblown, and boring piece of twaddle imposed on unsuspecting film students by their pretentiously pseudo-intellectual teachers.

Some other notable Rsenais films include Le Chant du Styrène, an industrial film about styrene thermoplastic that was commissioned by the Société Pechiney to illustrate the variety and versatility of their product; Muriel ou Le Temps d'un Retour, starring actress Delphine Seyrig, a visual account of the effects of war on the lives of three emotionally scarred survivors; and La Guerre est finie, with actor Yves Montand and actress Ingrid Thulin, concerning the life and activities of a world-weary career resistance operator.

Resnais was a contemporary but not really a member of the French New Wave, the group of critics-turned-filmmakers who came out of the journal Les cahiers du cinéma, including François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, among others. More precisely, Resnais belonged to the filmmaking and literary community of the Left Bank, which included Agnès Varda, Jacques Demy and other filmmakers and authors with a commitment to modernism and little debt to the American cinema.

Resnais worked regularly during the 1960s and 1970s. Although not especially prolific, he has nonetheless achieved great success. In the 1980s, he experienced a disappointment after the critical and box office failure of several films. With Smoking/No Smoking (1993), he once again achieved international critical and commercial success.

Resnais remained active into his eighties, creating more filmic output. This included his work Coeurs (2006, known as Private Fears in Public Places in North America). In his final two films, Resnais again drew his source material from the theater. Vous n'avez encore rien vu (You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet!, 2012) was adapted from two plays by Jean Anouilh. The film was shown in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Aimer, boire et chanter (2014) was the third film which Resnais adapted from a play by Alan Ayckbourn, in this case Life of Riley. Three weeks before Resnais' death, the film received its premiere in the competition section of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2014, where it won a Silver Bear award "for a feature film that opens new perspectives." At the time of his death, Resnais was preparing a further Ayckbourn project, based on the 2013 play Arrivals & Departures.

Personal life

Resnais was married to Florence Malraux (the only daughter of the late French author and statesman André Malraux). His second wife was Sabine Azéma, who acted in the majority of his films from 1983 onwards; they were married in the English town of Scarborough in 1998.

Alain Resnais died in Paris on March 1, 2014; he was buried in Montparnasse cemetery.


Many of Renais's films were produced by Anatole Dauman and Argos Films who also produced films for other Left Bank film makers such as Chris Marker. He was also known for his collaborations with literary figures such as Alain Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras. In later films, Resnais moved away from the overtly political topics of some previous works and developed his interests in an interaction between cinema and other cultural forms, including theatre, music, and comic books. This led to imaginative adaptations of plays by Alan Ayckbourn and Jean Anouilh, as well as films featuring various kinds of popular song.


Although not as well known as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard—the central members of the French New Wave—and their films, Alain Resnais is appreciated by international "cineastes" and the best of his films have become part of the canon of world cinema. According to the Internet Movie Database, he was nominated for a BAFTA award, and received forty one additional awards and twenty-one nominations. Film students everywhere continue to view and study Renais's Night and Fog, Hiroshima mon amour, Last Year at Marienbad, La Guerre est finie, and others. His films are often called "time defying," "dazzling experiments," "a choreographed moment outside of time," with "dreamlike cadences, frozen tableaux, and distilled surrealist poetry," and are said to "transcend reality."


  • Prix Jean Vigo in 1954 and 1956
  • Silver Lion at Venice Film Festival 2006 for Coeurs (aka Private Fears in Public Places).


  • L'aventure de Guy (1936)
  • Schéma d'une identification (1946)
  • Ouvert pour cause d'inventaire (1946)
  • Visite à Oscar Dominguez (1947)
  • Visite à Lucien Coutaud (1947)
  • Visite à Hans Hartnung (1947)
  • Visite à Félix Labisse (1947)
  • Visite à César Doméla (1947)
  • Van Gogh (16mm) (1947)
  • Portrait d'Henri Goetz (1947)
  • Le lait Nestlé (1947)
  • Journée naturelle (1947)
  • La bague (1947)
  • L'alcool tue (1947) (as Alzin Rezarail)
  • Van Gogh (35mm) (1948)
  • Malfray (1948)
  • Les jardins de Paris (1948)
  • Châteaux de France (1948)
  • Guernica (1950/I)
  • Gauguin (1950)
  • Pictura (1952)
  • Les statues meurent aussi (1953)
  • Night and Fog (1955)
  • Toute la mémoire du monde (1956)
  • Le mystère de l'atelier quinze (1957)
  • Le chant du Styrène (1958)
  • Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
  • L'année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) (1961)
  • Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour (1963)
  • La Guerre est finie (1966)
  • Loin du Vietnam (1967)
  • Je t'aime, je t'aime (1968)
  • Cinétracts (1968)
  • L'an 01 (1973) (New York scenes)
  • Stavisky (1974)
  • Providence (1977)
  • Mon oncle d'Amérique (1980)
  • La vie est un roman (1983)
  • L'amour à mort (1984)
  • Mélo (1986)
  • I Want to Go Home (1989)
  • Contre l'oubli (1991)
  • Gershwin] (1992)
  • Smoking/No Smoking] (1993)
  • On connaît la chanson (1997)
  • Pas sur la bouche (2003)
  • Cœurs (2006)
  • Les Herbes folles (Wild Grass) (2009)
  • Vous n'avez encore rien vu (You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet!) (2012)
  • Aimer, boire et chanter (Life of Riley) (2014)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Kreidl, John Francis. Alain Resnais. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977. ISBN 0805792562.
  • Monaco, James. Alain Resnais. New York: 0xford University Press, 1979. ISBN 9780195200379.
  • Wilson, Emma. Alain Resnais. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006. ISBN 0719064066.

External links

All links retrieved June 17, 2023.


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