I, Qassandra

Last Year In Marienbad - Iconic Scene from the Film (dir. Alain Resnais)

L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961) – Alain Resnais & Alain Robbe-Grillet

France, 1961, 94 mins., Black and White, 01:34, French.
The Riddle

Did the nameless heroine and hero of this film, now staying and interacting at this hotel, really met last year at Marienbad, as the name of the film implies, as the male protagonist insists they did, while the female protagonist disproves it by all excuses possible: he is crazy, she have no memory of this. Did they really fall in love before, but she asked him to wait for a year before eloping together. Both the director Alain Resnais and his scriptwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet gave contradictory answers to that, according to Wiki, fueling the negative reviews from those who didn’t like the film or couldn’t cope with the way reality bites in absurd literature, of which Robbe-Grillet was a prominent contributor.

This is not the right question, though. The right question is whether Marienbad really exists at all. Is there even a reason to argue whether or not they met. The name of the film is quiet decisive, as film names usually do, the dialogue is quite ambiguous: “…perhaps at Frederiksbad, Karlstadt, Marienbad, or Baden-Salsa”. Needless to say there is no Baden-Salsa out there and Karlstadt – there is a real town by that name, but given the context it probably should have been Karlsbad, the famous spa town, which also doesn’t really exist… anymore, like Marienbad, as those neighboring Bohemian towns took different names when German control was no more: Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázně, respectively. Those already were the names at the time of filming and at the time of the occurrences the film depicts, the present one and the year before, as suggested by the clothes of the film inhabitants. Frederiksbad also doesn’t exist although it may resemble a spa by the name of Friedrichsbad located at Baden Baden.

It is hard to grasp what is going on when no concrete framework is given. This loose of a framework is not usual even in the realm of absurd which mostly uses easily identified situations in order to challenge them.

This kind of elusive plot, with almost only poetic narration that keeps repeating itself, establishing a truth and keeping it perpetually changing all at once, induced so many of interpretations, so much so that even Wikipedia lists most of them:

Numerous explanations of the film’s events have been put forward, among them: that it is a version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, that it represents the relationship between patient and psychoanalyst, that it all takes place in the woman’s mind, that it all takes place in the man’s mind and depicts his refusal to acknowledge he has killed the woman he loved, and that the characters are ghosts or dead souls in limbo. Some have noted the film has the atmosphere and the form of a dream, and claim the structure of the film may be understood by the analogy of a recurring dream, or even that the man’s meeting with the woman is the memory (or dream) of a dream.

Director and Screenwriter approaches were more decisive though (although Robbe-Grillet is asking you ultimately not to be decisive if you want to make something out of it):

Others have heeded, at least as a starting point, the indications given by Robbe-Grillet in the introduction to his “ciné-novel” of the screenplay: “Two attitudes are then possible: either the spectator will try to reconstitute some ‘Cartesian’ scheme – the most linear, the most rational he can devise – and this spectator will certainly find the film difficult if not incomprehensible; or else the spectator will let himself be carried along by the extraordinary images in front of him … and to this spectator, the film will seem the easiest he has ever seen: a film addressed exclusively to his sensibility, to his faculties of sight, hearing, feeling.” As a suggestion of how one might view the work, he offered that “The whole film, as a matter of fact, is the story of a persuading [“une persuasion”]: it deals with a reality which the hero creates out of his own vision, out of his own words.” [source: wiki]

The most famous scene of this film involved no one of its main characters, I mean this blick-short scene of people in the garden where their shadows doesn’t fit the shadows of the bushes. That because they were painted on the ground, let me appease all those who wondered for years, how the hell was it done. Exactly at the middle of the film, but here it’s not a turning point as in Cloe from 5 to 7. Just a brief escape of our couple from an annoying concert. Hardly noticeable when you runs the film fast forward looking for it. The music heard is a gothic organ – not the instruments the concert musicians are playing.

Resnais, for his part, gave a more abstract explanation of the film’s purpose: “For me this film is an attempt, still very crude and very primitive, to approach the complexity of thought, of its processes.” [source: wiki]

Orderly Repetitive

Repetitions of the same text, the same idea, ideas, I’m shifting into the realm of political science and pondering how a certain politician can slowly disseminates ideas into the minds of prospect voters, embedding them in the zeitgeist, contemplating the process through which a particular idea becomes accepted as a truth, regardless of its authenticity. If it can authenticated at all. Black people can be enslaved, they are inferior, like being beaten up, Jews should be exterminated. When those notions relentlessly repeated long enough, even the victimized party start to believe in it, internalized it, giving up the option of resisting, even when they can, and one always can if only they comprehend the abuse. And on the other hand the victimizing ones may remain oblivious to their own wrongdoing, unaware of it is being the result of imprinting of certain ideas generations ago. It becomes an axiom. This is the dark nature of ideologies – like with capitalism, one idea of many, the world was doing quite fine without it, until 400 years ago, and still Hegel believed this to be the pinnacle of conduct, envisioning the end of history when it would reign supreme (as we know the notion from the 1992 book by Francis Fukuyama: The End of History and the Last Man). However, witnessing recent affairs, we now may conclude that capitalism is not the best of conduct, that it brings all the negatives in human nature, so much so, that some powerful figures exploit the victims of capitalism and globalization yet again, when they sell them ideas that ostensibly promise to improve their financial situation (like Make America Great Again and Bring Jobs back home from China) elevate their personal safety thus boost their personal morale and national morale, only to manipulate them for their own empowerment and the advancement of right-wing dictatorships.

Repetition is also a musical device, a sequence, that is “the restatement of a motif or longer melodic (or harmonic) passage at a higher or lower pitch in the same voice. It is one of the most common and simple methods of elaborating a melody in eighteenth and nineteenth century classical music” (source: wiki). There are also repetitions of the same exact sequence. Are they alike? Not necessarily. What is going on your mind when you hear the same idea twice, when you have to sing the same idea twice. As a performer, I often chose to render the second sequence differently, quitter, softer, stronger, more heartbroken or detached or relieved and invigorated, as my interpretation of the piece implied. It was me dressing up the composer naked notes, he (probably not she) may thought of it differently in his time. We may never know. A tradition often surrounds the interpretation of a certain well-known sequences, is it coincide with the way the composer original intent. Probably not. We can hardly find out his personal preferences, yet occasionally, we can trace back the inception of specific interpretive traditions.

When the narrator repeats the same text, the same memoir passage, while the background is changing, it draws closer to us, a known factor amid the baffled background, a holding point, a familiar perspective. We feel secure. The once-intimidating text may not seem that daunting now, its anticipated rhythm calms us down. It consoles us while we swirl in this glorious Goth castle. That means, a most spectacular place, presented to us from quirky angels at first, meaning mostly focusing on its ceiling areas. Being the only familiar presence amidst all that havoc, one might be inclined to comprehend it as good, right and true, something worth fighting for, surrendering to, adopting.

Repetitions, often in the form of rituals, are primary tool for copying with anxiety as in OCD. This might seem slightly peculiar, as anxiety in many cases involves repetitions that contributes to your anxiety in the first place, like letters incessantly replaying before your eyes or imaginary forms that must be fulfilled, obeyed, stick to.

Repetitions represent the order you seem to comply with. Your internally imposed order, your social group’s order, whatever comes first. Order is always chasing you. Should you fight it…

But not only order repetitions create, they do create change. Maybe a more digestible change, slowly evolving, a change that you apparently make within your inner self, but may be cleverly crafted in order to manipulatively make you do just this. The political is always personal at the end of the day, every voter is a soul.

This film may be taken for a laboratory of experimental manipulation. No, it is only breaking the manipulation down to its numerous facets, to expose its mechanism.

Repetitions can also scramble our sense of time. This memoire passage – does it describe something from the past, the present, or our imagination. Our sense of reality. Repetitions do not naturally occur in real life. They are artistic devices. In a film, that may jump in time, in place, in consciousness dimensions, outside of scientific logic, into an encroaching net of lies.

Our sense of time. This is a 1961 film, a time when most countries in the world attained independence and democracy. Those not behind the iron curtain. Those who freed themselves from colonialism. The age of ideologies. The social is more important than the individual. At the time, this film might have seemed as an intellectual exercise in debauchery. Current affairs make this dark fable more relevant than ever.

Affluent house tours

While you were sleeping, immersed in the culture of chasing the capitalist dream for a better house, better experiences, the stuff that looks so great in social media, you’re being manipulated and your freedom is taken away from you. Your dream seems so out of reach that you’ve sunk into anxiety, depression, and the opioid epidemic. According to Peter Santenello’s Appalachia YouTube series, up to 50% of the 20-40 years old in certain communities in the US Appalachia are addicted to some form of hard drugs (mostly Fentanyl). Social media has influenced them not to feel compelled to have a decent job to support themselves, even when being presented with many opportunities. Thus, many continue to live with their parents (who are raising their children) or rely on financial assistance checks.

Mina Le discusses the phenomenon of house tours, the ones that are flooding social media, like the AD’s Open Door series and Vogue’s 73 Questions series. Interestingly, she suggests that this trend can be traced back to a cultural clashes between East and West, the USSR and the US, in the heydays of the Cold War, that was brilliantly epitomized in the 1958 cultural exchange national exhibitions: in New York, the USSR showcased its national progress, traveling into space and nuclear-powered icebreaker; unexpectedly maybe, the US presentation in Moscow focused on lifestyle: jazz music, basketball, modern art, fancy cars, high heels shoes and the main attraction – a life-sized model of an American private home, with emphasis on kitchen appliances, the individual way of life. Two polar approaches. These shows were very famous at the time due to a much-publicized debate, known as The Kitchen Debate, between the then vice president Richard Nixon and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, revolving around capitalism versus communism. The US propaganda prevailed. The people of the USSR were captured by the allure of individual prosperity and the pursuit of personal wealth, eventually leading in the 1990s to the downfall of communism, only to give way to another form of dictatorship creeping in through the back door, 30 years later. The US isn’t far behind. Luckily it still possesses enough means to counterbalance this tendency. Other countries haven’t been so fortunate.

The problem with the American dream of white picket fences is that, in most cases, it is simply unattainable. All the house tours, televised or physical – and by physical I’m referring to the phenomenon of Hollywood map of celebrity residences and guided tours in the neighbourhood, for instance – share a common goal – to perpetuate the validity of this unattainable dream. The same goes for dreamy vacations, relentlessly advocated for on social media, another way of controlling citizens by posing yet another affluent goal to aspired to, keeping them trapped in the never-ending race for the end of the rainbow, keeping them from asking crucial questions, like why they need all that material stuff and what they really want from their lives. It keeps them weak, unaware, detached of the undercurrents only to realize much too late that somebody stole their country and the social norms, they were brainwashed to consider as inarguable axioms. This is what capitalism is responsible for, and it doesn’t at all look good. So, my Hegelian friends, what do you have to say now? Is capitalism truly the least worst option possible?

This film was shot in Munich. “Three overwrought baroque castles were knitted together to make a single, vast, labyrinthine hotel.” I read about this film In Movie-Location.com. “You could go crazy trying to untangle Alain Resnais’ sinuous jigsaw, one location flowing seamlessly into another, the layout of the garden endlessly changing and doors not always opening onto the same room. Not surprisingly, the major location, a gigantic rococo palace where elegantly attired guests play arcane games, was once home to the famously extravagant King Ludwig I. It’s Schloss Nymphenburg, 200 years in the building and half a mile from wingtip to wingtip, in a northwest suburb of the city.” The two other spots are: the hunting lodge, Amalienburg, that is on the gorunds of Nymphenburg, with an even more florid interior than Nymphenburg; a white, green and gold rococo fantasy centered around the sumptuous Spiegelsaal, the Hall of Mirror, with which Resnais has loads of fun due to the endless reflections, seen over the opening monologue and used as the setting for the concert of the final evening together. The third location with a plainer exterior, appears as ‘Frederiksbad’ in Albertazzi’s memories and in the framed pictures throughout the film, is the Neues Schloss of Schloss Schleissheim, housing the Bayerische Staatsgalerie collection of baroque art.

These are out-of-this-world palaces, suited only for fairy tale kings and queens, or members of the upper crust passing by for a minute, or our dreams. No instructions will be given on how to attain them (unlike social media lifestyle posts), although the aforementioned article does name the streetcars leading to them, minus the additions made specifically for this film. Then, you realize even better, that they are all props, a fantasy backdrop that never failed to keep you aware of the fact that this is not real. The problem is that you might believe this manipulation belongs only to that parallel fantasy universe, thinking it cannot be exercised in your little familiar world. Which is clearly not the case. In our time social media transforms those rare sneak peaks into goals within reach. It has made the manipulation much harder to recognize, let alone be deciphered.

Yet again, 1950s consumerism prevails, having rebelled against in the 1960s and 1970s, only to raise his ugly head again in the 1980s. But now it is reaching dangerous peaks, because you no longer fight for your home, your freedom, your rights, or the climate, within a given secure framework of familiar rules and ways of conduct. Instead, you’re entering the unknown terrain of dictatorship of the majority, all those easy-to-influence uneducated victims of capitalisms that are brainwashed by extremists who cleverly exploits this notoriously accessible social media. It has come to a point where educated, liberal parents come to realize that while prioritizing making money to sustain their consumerism habits, over and on the expense of their children, those children were already abducted and hooked up by extreme ideas flooding the social media, their primary (uncontrolled and not curated) source of information, they are already rallying against everything you’ve been fighting for.

The Last Men

Eventually, our heroine surrendered to the relentless mind changing attempts of her suitor and left with him. Are we, at this point in history, going to surrender to the majority’s “will”.

The Film:

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