Monday, March 17, 2014

Je t’aime, je t'aime

The French love memory. Proust’s masterpiece was A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, In Search of Lost Time or The Remembrance of Things Past, as it’s most often translated. The French philosopher Henri Bergson” wrote a tome entitled Matter and Memory in which he distinguishes between “habitual” and “pure memory." Freud said dreams were “the royal road to the unconscious” and Bergson showed how certain kinds of mnemonic processes, perhaps like the Proustian madeleine, go beyond either the “habitual" or “pure" to open a door up on the past. Alain Resnais’s Je t’aime, Je t’aime (l968) currently playing at Film Forum takes the form of a science fiction film and concerns a time machine. But it’s crude science fiction at best and really just an occasion for the exploration of memory. Here Resnais continues the style of exposition he famously introduced in Last Year at Marienbad (l961) where flashbacks and repetitions (like that of the films title “je t’aime, Je t’aime”) produce a skewed vision of illusion and reality. It’s a project that also consumed two earlier films, Hiroshima Mon Amour (l959) and the documentary Night and Fog (1955). Resnais’s central character Claude Ridder (Claude Rich), who is recovering from a suicide attempt, is recruited outside a mental hospital, primarily because he’s someone, who cares little about living and is willing to risk a voyage into the past. In going back in time, the narrative inevitably plumbs the mystery of why he has attempted to take his own life. There's something mysterious about Marienbad and the same air of suspense hovers over Je t’aime Je t’aime, but it's the kind of suspense that accompanies the unfolding of memory in a psychoanalytic session. Thus, it’s not clear if the death of Claude’s girlfriend Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot), a quintessentially anhedonic character, is an accident or murder and both Catrine and Claude are linked thematically by their lack of desire to live. Mice are frequently used in experiments on memory and besides the film’s inadvertent excursions into the neurological concepts of both episodic and procedural memory, the mouse is Je t’aime’s one concession to hard science.

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