In his introduction preceding the text, Robbe-Grillet points out that he and Resnais collaborated from the outset, but due to other commitments, the writer was not present during filming.
Despite his physical absence, Robbe-Grillet opens a dialogue with the director within the script by sharing with him some points the writer had not totally resolved. As in:
"Unless the director has other ideas for enlivening this somber sequence, it might be embellished...." 10
(Resnais decided in this particular instance to drop the proposed scenes altogether from the sequence and completely revise those scenes that immediately follow, resulting in a more rhythmic, visually striking passage.)
Comparing the script to the finished film reveals that Resnais faithfully augmented the writer's intended poetic rhythm through sound effects, camera movement and his highly-stylized direction of the actors. In the few instances where Resnais did make substitutions, additions or deletions, they are of minor consequence to the author's intentions.
One area where Resnais did make liberal substitutions was in the music. Where the author calls for a noisy orchestra, the director provides a lone organ moaning in a minor key. The one major exception -- and perceived mistake -- is in Resnais' following Robbe-Grillet's suggestions for opening the film:
"Opening with a romantic, passionate, violent burst of music, the kind used at the end of films with powerfully emotional climaxes (a large orchestra of strings, woodwinds, brasses, etc." 11
Perhaps Robbe-Grillet intended this opening salvo to provide a jarring counterpoint to the deliberate, haunting rhythm that follows. However, it proves more distracting than dramatic. Ironically, the once-contemporary nature of the music and the inappropriate, accompanying graphics in the opening credits are the only elements that date this otherwise timeless work.
For the rest of the music, Resnais' decisions may have been financially motivated. Yet, the economy of a lone instrument wherever possible enhances the film. In one particular sequence, the script calls for an orchestra of "classical" instruments to be playing on a stage. Instead, Resnais effectively provides only a violinist and a violist silently bowing their instruments to the rhythm of organ music that plays over the soundtrack. It seems clear that a feeling for music is much more in the director's domain (assisted by Francis Seyrig) than the writer's, as Resnais displays a sensitivity for the organ, much as Ingmar Bergman does for the cello.
Despite the prevalence of detail in the script, the author offers very little information as to how the characters are dressed. Robbe-Grillet simply states at the beginning that:
"......many men in evening clothes, and a few women, also very elegantly dressed." 12
In the final sequence, the writer reveals that A and X are wearing elegant travel habits. 13
Over the course of the film, however, X and A continuously appear in different outfits: he, in either formal clothes or a business suit; she, in one of three different evening dresses.
At times, the actors' clothing changes within the same sequence or even the same scene. With this technique, Resnais reinforces aspects of the theme by blurring distinctions between past, present and future, reality and fantasy and the properties of memory.
In the final sequence, Resnais deletes a presumably redundant scene which has M returning to his room. Also eliminated are A rising at the first chime of midnight and the clock striking twelve chimes for a second time at five minutes past twelve o'clock, as Robbe-Grillet had written.
Resnais apparently decided to leave out certain scenes from the screenplay. One of these called for A to stand at a table and slowly rearrange fallen flower petals in the form of the film's famous match game (rows of seven, five, three and one) played indefatigably by X and M, while she is approached by an off screen X, whose imminent presence is signaled by footsteps crunching gravel. Since the men are contestants (for her), it may have seemed odd that she would be involved with the game in this way. Instead, Resnais has her mounting an ornate Baroque staircase in a long dress, her back to the camera as in a Watteau painting. As her feet sink deeply into the thickly carpeted treads, the sound of X's rock-crunching footsteps can be heard in unison as the sequence ends.
In his interpretation of Robbe-Grillet's script, Resnais seemingly took greater exception to suggestions for sound and image than for word and image. Nevertheless, it is through Resnais' own personal images, derived from his expert direction, camera work and editing that this script is realized as the important work it was intended to be.
There is some indication that a key influence for `Marienbad' may have come from the playwright Henrik Ibsen. This is particularly evident in the similarity of circumstances surrounding the mysterious relationship between X and A and that of Halvard Solness and Hilda in Ibsen's "The Master Builder." In the play, Hilda insists that she and Solness had met exactly ten years earlier and they had agreed to meet again on the present day. Solness, like A, refuses or is unable to recall the event despite Hilda's numerous attempts to convince him. Discussing the play in his definitive biography Ibsen, Michael Meyer states: "There is a close analogy with the film, "Last Year in [sic] Marienbad," in which a similar situation occurs; and in both instances, part of the fascination lies in the fact that neither the people involved, nor we, ever know the truth." 14
Further, in concluding his initial description of the interior of the palace/hotel, Robbe-Grillet notes: "Lastly, a theater poster (also framed) for a play with foreign, meaningless title, the rest of the poster illegible except perhaps for a line in larger letters: Tonight only . . . " 15 Apparently acting in a spirit of mutual discernment, Resnais, during the author's aforementioned absence from filming, chose to title the play on the poster, "Rosmer," presumably as a tribute to Ibsen's troubling, psychological drama, "Rosmersholm."
Seeing `Marienbad' more than thirty years after its initial release, it is possible -- and intriguing -- to perceive this film on a different level as well as to identify some additional influences such as: Manet, Proust, Freud, Jung, Einstein, Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy, di Chirico, Breton, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Éluard and Sartre, to name a few.
Why not Rabelais and Molière, as well? For in France, a profound sense of the absurd is a natural trait, and satire a national treasure. At the time `Marienbad' was made, many films -- especially European films -- were allegorical and self-consciously full of partially hidden, double meanings. To have tantalized linear-oriented viewers with a chance to identify X as the "angel of death" might have proven too great a temptation.
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1 Alain Robbe-Grillet, Last Year at Marienbad, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1962), p.60.
2 Ibid., p.18.
3 Ibid., p.58.
4. Ibid., p.165.
5 Ibid., pp.82, 101.
6 Ibid., p.102.
7 Ibid., p.157.
8 Ibid., p.29.
9. Ibid., p.32.
10. Ibid., p.70.
11. Ibid., p.17.
12. Ibid., p.22.
13. Ibid., pp. 160, 162.
14. Michael Meyer, Ibsen, (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1971), p. 699.
15. Ibid., p.20.