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Film / Last Year at Marienbad

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"For me this film is an attempt, still very crude and very primitive, to approach the complexity of thought, of its processes."
Alain Resnais

Last Year at Marienbad is a Surrealist 1961 French film written by Alain-Robbe Grillet and directed by Alain Resnais.

At a European chateau resort for the rich, a man runs into a woman (Delphine Seyrig) whom he claims to have met before, specifically last year at the resort town Marienbad. She repeatedly denies this, although it is unclear if she is lying or not. Further complicating things is a second man (who may or may not be the woman's husband) who keeps finding ways to demean the first, particularly during repeated games of Nim.

At least, that seems to be the plot.

It is worth noting that the movie is heavily self-referential: if you pay attention, a lot of what seems to come out of nowhere has either been subtly set up earlier, or ties into something later. It's extremely complex, and has a polarizing reputation even among art film fans.

Tropes Associated With This Movie

  • Alien Geometries: Resnais shot the film in several different European castles, then edited it together in such a way as to create a disorienting, unclear sense of the scale and structure of the castle.
  • All There in the Script: The characters are unnamed in the film; in the published screenplay, the woman is referred to with the letter "A", the first man is "X", and the man who may be her husband is "M".
  • The Beautiful Elite: The movie takes place at a castle resort for the extremely wealthy, what else did you expect?
  • Big Fancy House
  • Chekhov's Armoury: Nearly every single thing in the movie refers back to something else.
  • Costume Porn: And lots of it. Tends to happen when one of your costumers is Coco Chanel.
  • Le Film Artistique
  • Fluffy Fashion Feathers
  • Game of Nim: Trope Maker. "M" describes it as "a game I always win", and "X" never figures out the trick.
  • Mind Screw: And how.
  • No Name Given: None of the main characters are given names. In the script, the woman is "A", the first man is "X" and the second is "M".
  • Rape Discretion Shot: It seems to happen, maybe... it's not very clear. The man even tries to correct himself when he thinks about it.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Every last one of the men.
  • Shout-Out:
    • At about the 13 minute mark you can see a stairwell where a cut-out of Alfred Hitchcock is barely visible.
    • One scene of Delphine Seyrig lounging on the bed is a hommage to Gilda, using similar lighting and costume.
  • Scenery Porn: The castle setting is as much a character as the actors, with lots of tracking and wide shots to take it all in.