Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais: Hiroshima mon Amour – Book and Movie (1959/60) Literature and War Readalong July 2011

How do you talk about war? How to put it into words, into pictures? How to tell and show the unspeakable, the horror, the atrocity? How much can you know about something that you have not experienced? These are but a few questions Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais explore in the book and the movie.

Hiroshima Mon Amour is maybe the most difficult book of this readalong to write about. A summary wouldn’t do it justice. I was amazed once more how good it is, how profound and how the book and the movie seem like two different ways of exploring, with two different languages, the atrocity that we call war. What is fascinating is how they seem to converse with each other.

In 1959 a Japanese man and a French woman meet in Hiroshima. They are both a bit over thirty and happily married. They spend a night together. It is shortly before the woman’s return to France. She is an actress who has come to Hiroshima to play a nurse in a movie on peace. They make love and talk. First about Hiroshima, then about the past of the woman. They part for the day but he follows her and they spend another night together, stay awake, spend  time in a tea house. During the second night, the woman tells the man the whole story of her past in Nevers and her tragic first love. She hasn’t told anyone this story before because there was never anyone like her first lover after that until this day.

I’m glad I read the book again before watching the movie. It was interesting to see how different it is when we first imagine something and when we then see it as well.

During the initial part of the movie we hear a voice-over. The woman tells the man everything that she has seen in Hiroshima. In the news at the time, in the museum during her stay. When you read it, you see in your imagination what you have seen before in documentaries or on photos but the movie shows you how it really was and on the other hand you have the man’s voice telling you, that you have seen nothing, know nothing. There is no replacing the actual experience.

The first pictures show bodies, parts of bodies, first covered in what looks like fall out, then in sweat. This reminded me of Resnais’ documentary Night and Fog. It is the same visual language that tries to show us what violence does to the body, that tries to capture the devastation. Hiroshima Mon Amour seems also to say that war and love can be equally destructive. There is violence in aggression and in passion.

What struck me is that we do not know their names. At the end they give each other the name of the places in which their mutual tragedies happened. She calls him Hiroshima, he calls her Nevers.

One of the themes of the book and the movie is how the collective and the personal tragedies are linked. While Hiroshima and WWII stand for a collective tragedy, Nevers stands for a personal tragedy. This is one of the achievements of  Hiroshima Mon Amour. One approach in war stories or war movies is to pick one exemplary person and tell his/her story. We understand the individual far better, can identify far better with one person’s story but the large-scale of the collective should not be forgotten. Hiroshima Mon Amour is one of the rare movies/books who manages to show both and make clear that they are interdependent.

For those who have not read the book, I would say that it is a valuable addition and it is fascinating to see how they complement each other. First there is the script, including proposals by Marguerite Duras, then she adds information on what scenes Resnais finally chose, plus there is an annex in which Duras goes deeper, explores the woman’s story, gives it more density. I liked the appendix, that was mostly dedicated to the woman’s story, a lot.

There are many things that are worth discussing and I am looking forward to hear your thoughts. One question that has been on my mind since I re-watched the movie is the choice of the Japanese actor. He struck me as looking quite European. I had kept the appendix for last and was glad that Duras mentioned this choice, saying they had wanted to make a more universal statement with this. They didn’t want people to think “That’s an attractive Japanese” but “That’s an attractive man”. I was not completely happy about this. It’s a sad fact that whenever a person from another continent is casted in a European movie, the film directors think of the European taste and choose someone less typical. This is unfortunately exactly how exotism works. I think Resnais and Duras were honest in their attempt but I’m not sure it was ok.

Other reviews:

Emily (Evening All Afternoon)

Litlove (Tales from the Reading Room)

Richard (Caravana de recuerdos)


Hiroshima mon Amour was the seventh book in the Literature and War Readalong. The next one will be Elsa Morante’s History. Discussion starts on Friday August 26, 2011.

Paris – A Movie by Cédric Klapisch (2008)

I watched this movie as part of Book Bath‘s and Thyme for Tea‘s event Paris in July.

Paris is an absolutely charming movie and I’m sure it will appeal to many people because it combines a good story with interesting character portraits, wonderful pictures of Paris and a great cast (Juliette Binoche, Mélanie Laurent, Fabrice Luchini, Albert Dupontel and Romain Duris). I feel really homesick now.  All the places to which I used to go while I lived in Paris can be seen: La Place de La Sorbonne, the Jardin du Palais Royal, the Bibliothèque Nationale. But we also see Ménilmontant where I used to live briefly after I had finished school.

Paris tells one main story, different smaller side stories branch out from it. The people of the main and the side story are only connected because they live in the same town and their paths cross but they don’t get to know each other. Parallel storylines don’t always work well but in this movie they complete each other and the outcome is nicely rounded. The movie has really only one flaw, a brief “All-you-need-is-love”-moment towards the end of the film. Watching this short part was like biting on a lump of sugar in an otherwise tasty cake.

The central characters are Pierre (Romain Duris) and Élise (Juliette Binoche). Pierre is a professional dancer whose best friend is his older sister Élise, a fortysomething divorcée with two kids. At the beginning of the movie Pierre is diagnosed with a serious heart disease that means his career as a dancer has come to an end. He is condemned to stay in his apartment and watch life go by. This offers a great opportunity to have him observe people, one of them is the beautiful Laetitia (Mélanie Laurent). Whenever Pierre is alone, walking the streets of Paris, mourning his career, contemplating his possible death, his reflections are accompanied by the music of Erik Satie. I liked that touch a lot.

Élise doesn’t belive in love anymore. She has been disappointed, doesn’t want to risk falling in love. When she goes shopping for her brother to the street market, near where he lives, she meets one of the vendors (Albert Dupontel) and there seems, from the beginning, a possibility for something between them.

Roland Verneuil (Fabrice Luchini) is an elderly professor of history. His story was for me the most touching. We learn about it because he falls in love with one of his students, Laetitia who lives in an apartment vis-à-vis of Pierre’s flat and he watches her. Verneuil is insecure but at the same time there is a lot of passion in him that has been stored away for a long time. Falling in love with a student reawakens him and brings out a very different person. There is nothing sleazy in this older man falling in love with a young woman. Unfortunately the beautiful Laetitia is one of those good-looking women who enjoys not only to play with men but who also likes to inflict pain. A nasty piece of work.

I loved the melancholy end of the movie. We  know from the start that there isn’t a lot of hope for Pierre. He needs a transplant and he may or may not survive the surgery. The last scene shows him travel through Paris in a taxi, on his way to the hospital.

Paris is a beautiful and touching movie and a homage to a city. I liked it even better than Paris, Je t’aime which isn’t bad at all either.

Daniel Vigne’s Le Retour de Martin Guerre – The Return of Martin Guerre (1982)

I watched a lot of movies with Gérard Depardieu. Not always because I wanted to, often because he was automatically cast in each and every bigger French production. Still, there are a few I haven’t seen yet and The Return of Martin Guerre or Le Retour de MartinGuerre was one of them. I thought it might be a good choice for Book Bath‘s and Thyme for Tea‘s event Paris In July and so I watched it last week.

There are a lot of things I liked about this movie that is based on a true story that happened in France in the 16th century. The cinematography is stunning, the music by Michel Portal is really great, Depardieu is good and the lovely Nathalie Baye is wonderful. Last but not least I found out when watching this that the US movie Sommersby with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster is a remake of The Return of Martin Guerre.

In a medieval little village in France two young people get married. One couldn’t say that they get along well. The boy, Martin Guerre, is not exactly a good or tender husband, on the very contrary. It seems that married life is just too much for him. One day he runs off and doesn’t come back anymore.

Nine years later, a grown man arrives in the village and is enthusiastically greeted as Martin Guerre by everyone. Finally the runaway has returned to wife and family. Everybody recognizes him, welcomes him and he knows them all as well. He knows each and every little detail of their past life. Still they are aware that he has changed a lot. He tells them that he has been at war these past nine years and that he has seen a lot of awful things. Maybe war has made him a better man? He is joyful, easy-going and very gentle with his wife. The relationship they have is completely different from what they had before. They enjoy each other’s company and are very much in love. Others are affected by this happiness as well. It seems that the return of Martin Guerre changed everybody’s life for the better. Soon there will be a second child and things would be perfect if Martin did not decide to ask his uncle for money.

From this moment on, things change drastically. People start to say that he is not Martin Guerre. He is dragged into court but declared innocent. As soon as he is out there are new accusations and new proofs. The movie turns into a court room drama. He is acquitted again and accused once more.

Knowing that this is a true story and seeing the outcome is quite heartbreaking. It is also shown how great the influence of the Church is and how superstitions arise. At one point there is talk of the devil and of black magic. People really do not know whether it is him or not, everybody is confused.

Vigne’s movie is highly watchable and I liked especially how the music, the pictures and the story go hand in hand and complete each other.

I’m sorry for this blurred trailer. On top of that I couldn’t find the one with the English subtitles but the movie is available with English subtitles. At least you can hear a bit of Portal’s music.

Literature and War Readalong July 29 2011: Hiroshima Mon Amour by Marguerite Duras or Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour

This month’s readalong is a bit special as you have the possibility to either read the book by Marguerite Duras or watch Alain Resnais’ movie. I will read the book and watch the movie. I’m not sure whether I’ll do a combined post or rather two. I suppose, I will combine it. The movie is very beautiful but it is a good idea to read the book first, it will make watching the movie easier. I’m not sure how well they managed the subtitles.

Hiroshima Mon Amour is far more than a love story, it is also a haunting, poetical look at the horror of Hiroshima and the devastation created by the bomb.

The movie is one of the great classics of French cinema. Resnais started with documentaries (Night and Fog or Nuit et Brouillard is one of them), Hiroshima Mon Amour was his first feature film.

I don’t know whether anyone has noticed but I skipped last month’s wrap up. I did that deliberately as I found that three posts per month on the same book are a bit of an overload, especially when I am the only one posting. Should there be months with more posting participants I might do it again.

Here is a scene from the movie with English subtitles.

Zabou Breitman’s Je l’aimais – Someone I Loved (2009) The Movie Based on Anna Gavalda’s Novel

I wasn’t aware of this movie until I read about it on Guy Savage’s second blog Phoenix Cinema. I liked Anna Gavalda’s short story collection I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere (Je voudrais que quelqu’un m’attende quelque part) and her subsequent novel Someone I Loved (Je l’aimais) a great deal and was looking forward to watch the movie.

Zabou Breitman’s Je l’aimais or Someone I Loved is a very subtle, touching movie and the main actors are amazing, all three of them.

At the beginning we don’t really know what happened. Pierre (Daniel Auteuil), Chloë’s father-in-law, drives her and her two kids to their holiday house, near Annecy. It’s quite cold, the mountains look bleak, there is a constant drizzle and the young woman is crying during the whole trip. At the same time she emanates a fierceness. She seems desperate, wounded and angry at the same time. Florence Loiret Caille plays the wounded woman with such intensity, it’s painful to watch, we forget that it is a movie and think that we are really watching someone in distress and pain.

Once arrived in the little house, the girls start watching TV non-stop, Chloë cries and Pierre tries to take care of them. For a while, it works more or less, they hardly talk, keep politely distant but then Chloë has a break out and shouts and screams and tells Pierre she can’t take it any longer, these polite silences, the way how in their family they always remain silent, never talk and that this silence is precisely the reason why she never saw it coming. She never even expected that her husband had a mistress, she wasn’t prepared to be left like this, without forewarning.

This outburst, the honesty and directness move Pierre and he starts to talk. First he tells Chloë about his brother who died very young after having served in Indochina and later he tells her that he also had an affair.

We see the story of the love of his life in flashbacks, we watch how he meets Mathilde (an excellent Marie-Josée Croze) in Hong Kong on a business trip, how he falls in love head over heels, how they continue seeing each other for years in different places, Hong Kong, Paris, anywhere in the world. He tells Chloë of his extreme happiness, how well they felt together until the day Mathilde asked him what would become of them. From that moment on things got complicated.

Despite a loveless marriage Pierre cannot break free. There is his wife, the children, his reputation, the house, the holiday house, his habits, his way of life. He would have liked to go on like they did forever, meeting Mathilde whenever possible, but not changing his routine. For a while Mathilde accepts this but one day she cannot take it any longer and Pierre must make a decision.

It is easy to judge Pierre and I guess everyone who watches this movie at a certain moment will judge him. But after a while one starts to understand and one also understands why he told Chloë his story. He doesn’t want her to keep back his son. He doesn’t want his son to be a coward and to destroy two lives.

Je l’aimais is a great example of what French cinema has to offer. Actors who are so excellent, they let you experience what the characters they portray go through. The three people come across as so vulnerable and naked, it’s quite amazing. The camera seems glued to their faces and they fill the screen at any moment, every gesture, every facial expression is meaningful.

I couldn’t find an English trailer and had to attach the French one but there are subtitled versions of the movie available.

Je l’aimais is my first contribution to Book Bath‘s and Thyme for Tea‘s event Paris In July.

I decided to do a weekly French cinema post on Sunday starting today until the end of the month.

Paris in July – 2011 or French Books, Movies, Art and Music

Paris in July is an event hosted by Book Bath and Thyme for Tea. I think it should appeal to many as you can contribute almost anything as long as it is about something French (not Paris only).

All you have to do is either read a French book, watch a movie, share a recipe, post something on French art or architecture, write a travel piece or share your favourite French music. It is up to you.

I am, as usual, tempted to contribute many things but July is my busiest month work wise, therefore I’ll try to not put the bar too high. But let me share a few plans.


The July’s book for my Literature and War Readalong is Marguerite Duras’ Hiroshima mon amour. I will review the book and the movie.

I’m tempted to read and even re-read some Colette. I have never read her novel La Chatte, it would be a great choice for me. But I might also re-watch Chéri starring Michelle Pfeiffer and finally read the eponymous book as well. Zola’s Le ventre de Paris is also an option especially since there is a certain actuality to the topic as Les Halles, as I knew them all my life, are being torn down at the moment. Now these are just a few choices but my French reading pile is huge, I will certainly find something.

I could also imagine a post on French writers and their black cats.


I also have quite a little pile of DVDs here. I recently bought a Jean Gabin collection. I already watched Le Quai des Brumes and La Grande Illusion but there are some others that are very good. Another option is watching Les Misérables starring Gérard Depardieu. And I wanted to re watch the movie Paris, je t’aime. Despite it’s title it isn’t very clichéd.


I wanted to go to Paris in July but my workload will not allow it. Instead of that I might share a few extremely nice books on Paris that I found last year. There are a lot of themed guides around that are really interesting.

Paris: Made by Hand: 50 Shops Where Decorators and Stylists Source the Chic & Unique


My favourite French painter is Gustave Caillebotte. He painted Paris like not many others. I might write in more detail about his work and background.


When I think of French music, the first that comes to my mind is Air. I have all of their CD’s but I’m sure that’s not what people usually have in mind when thinking of French music. I’m also a huge fan of Edith Piaf. And there are many others that I could write about.

I hope this gives you an idea and tempts you as well. If you would like to sign up too here is the link.

Yves Angelo’s Le Colonel Chabert (1994)

I am really glad I have watched this movie. I liked every minute of it. It’s beautifully filmed, the interiors are wonderful, the actors are extremely good.

One of the problems I usually have when a movie is based on a book is that so much I liked has been left out. Le Colonel Chabert is an example of the opposite. Where the book gives us just a few details, the movie elaborates them. The character portraits are much more interesting; the Countess Ferraud and the lawyer Derville, have more depth and complexity and also the Count Ferraud, who is more or less just a distant presence in the book, becomes a real person.

I will not summarize the plot, I have already done this in the review of the novel, I will rather point out a few differences and how the film director managed to put into pictures what has before been put into words.

The movie starts with a view of the battlefield. This isn’t easy to watch. I mentioned somewhere else the problems I had with the movie Waterloo because of the dead horses. The amount of wasted horses is heartbreaking. The scene is very graphic; bodies of men and horses are piled up high and disposed of, just like garbage. There are three instances like this in the movie. They are falshbacks and represent what the Colonel Chabert remembers from the battle of Eylau where he was so severely wounded that he was reported dead.

While the book is rightly called Le Colonel Chabert, the movie could also have been called The Countess Ferraud. There is much more emphasis on her and the role and fate of women in the French society in the 19th century. She is not only greedy and ambitious like the Countess in the novel but she is also a woman who fights for her survival in the society. The movie shows that they are just pawns in a game and that “love” mostly equals lust and where that ends, “love” stops. A woman must constantly fear to be replaced by another one that is either more attractive or more likely to bring a man the social status or wealth he craves or the son he needs. I am not a fan of Fanny Ardant but she is excellent in this movie.

Derville’s role is also much more substantial. I like the way he speaks about his profession and how it made him unvover the ugliest in human society. The avarice, the greed, the fighting over money. Derville is truly a good person. He has seen so many vile acts that it seems to have transformed him into a better human being. There is not much to gain for him, in helping the Colonel, yet he does it anyway. Fabrice Luchini plays this incredibly well. The scene in which he visits the Colonel in his filthy abode is priceless.

Le Colonel Chabert is beautifully filmed. The decor, interiors and costumes are really worth watching. I particularly liked how the lawyer’s chambers were shown and the filthy backyard in which the Colonel lives.

Gerard Depardieu will always be one of my favourite actors no matter how often he parodies himself. I love his voice and he is often great. He is great in period drama but he excels in modern movies. The final scene of  Le Colonel Chabert shows him at his very best. This alone would have made this movie worth watching for me. On the other hand I have to point out that whoever is familiar with French cinema of the 80s and 90s knows that there is one thing to deplore. Whenever there was a big budget movie, it was more than likely he was casted. This makes it occasionally difficult to see the character and not the actor and his former roles. When I saw Chabert I also saw Rodin, the Count of Monte Christo, Cyrano de Bergerac, Vidocq, Vatel, Valjean, Columbus, Maheu, Jean de Florette and Balzac.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a trailer. I attached a few film stills instead.