French film director Alain Resnais has had one of the longest careers as a film director, having started making films when he was 14 years old, and continuing to make them today. He is closely associated with the filmmaking movement the French New Wave, and remains as one of France’s great directors and a major influence on contemporary film.
Born in Vannes, France, Resnais was the son of a well-off family; his father and grandfather were pharmacists, and Resnais would have been set to join the family business. However, because of chronic asthma, Resnais was unable to leave the house – he had to be home schooled, and his poor health prevented him from pursuing such a career.
Armed with a 8mm camera at age 14, Resnais made his first film, a three-minute short. From there, he found himself studying at L`Institut hautes études cinématographiques in Paris, and after graduation, focused on documentary filmmaking – Guernica (1950) based on Picasso’s painting, and Night and Fog (1955) about the Jewish Holocaust propelled him into the public eye.
Resnais made an impression with Night and Fog because he chose to film the concentration camps in color, almost a decade after they were liberated. The images of the empty, run down camps were emotionally devastating, especially in contrast to some of the stock black and white footage Resnais used of the camps in operation. The jarring difference between the black and white versus the color footage also allowed Resnais to being to explore the themes of time, past and present, memory and consciousness.
His first feature length narrative film, Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959), based on the novel by Marguerite Duras, also blurred time and memory. The film focuses on a French actress who is starring in a film set in the remains of a bombed Hiroshima, and her affair with a Japanese architect. Through their interactions, they slowly reveal hidden events in their past, shown in flashback. Resnais’ use of documentary footage of the aftermath of the Atomic Bomb is particularly striking and emotionally wrenching; his uncompromising approach soon made him an international name, and a favorite of the burgeoning New Wave movement.
Resnais will also be remembered for Last Year at Marienbad (1960), an almost plot-less film that centers on the man X, and a woman, A, as they seem to be talking about an affair they are having. The sequence of the narrative seems to not have any order, and only heightens the dreamlike feeling of the film. The film won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1963.
Resnais, now 85, continues to make films – his next one, The Incident is set for release sometime in 2008.