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Born: Vannes, France, 3 June 1922.

Alain Resnais (JPG, 15 KB)

One of the most consistently interesting auteurs of French cinema, Resnais was making short silent films as early as 1936. A graduate of IDHEC, he started shooting documentaries on art in 1948 with Van Gogh. Many other documentaries followed, including Gauguin and Guernica (both 1950), Toute la mémoire du monde (1956) and the celebrated Nuit et brouillard / Night and Fog (1955), a testimony to the Holocaust alternating archive documents with long tracking shots (in colour) of the empty concentration camps. Resnais' interest in social and political issues, his modernist concerns and drawing on serious literature (rather than pulp fiction) set him apart from other New Wave directors right from his first feature, Hiroshima mon amour (1959, with a script by Marguerite Duras), in which the catastrophe of the atomic bomb is juxtaposed with the personal tragedy of a French woman. Resnais' modernism came to the fore in his stunning though controversial collaboration with Alain Robbe-Grillet, L'Année dernière à Marienbad / Last Year at Marienbad (1961), in which the camera glides along the corridors of a baroque palace, revealing seemingly frozen characters who may or may not remember "last year at Marienbad" - the greatest art film for some, pretentious nonsense for others. What unites both the social and formal strands of Resnais' work is the theme of time and memory, of how to retrieve traces of the past, as well as complex work on narrative structure, especially evident in Muriel ou le temps d'un retour / Muriel (1963), La Guerre est finie / The War is Over (1966), Mon oncle d'Amérique / My American Uncle (1980) and La Vie est un roman / Life is a Bed of Roses (1982). He has also experimented with the theatrical style, with Mélo (1986) and the two-part Smoking / No Smoking (1993).

— Ginette Vincendeau, Encyclopedia of European Cinema

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This page was last updated on 3 September 2000.